Court ruling hands a reprieve to Vienna third runway

30 June 2017
Billboard with a message of support for a third runway at Vienna International Airport. Because a traffic jam in the skies damages the environment: yes to the third runway! Source: Georg Mader

The Austrian Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) on 29 June 2017 overruled an earlier ban on building a third runway at Vienna International Airport.

Court president Gerhard Holzinger announced that the judges found that the previous verdict in February 2017 by the Federal Administrative Court (FAC) had violated the Austrian Constitution. The FAC rejected the third runway on environmental grounds, arguing that it would cause a sharp increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but the FCC concluded that this justification "did not hold absolute priority over other factors".

By blocking expansion in February, it added, the FAC had "included general government objectives of climate protection and land consumption in an unconstitutional way".

The latest court ruling marks a victory for airport operator Flughafen Wien. It appealed against the earlier FAC decision, which was also criticised by senior politicians, aviation businesses, and the Austrian Chamber of Commerce.

In its explanation, the FCC concluded that the FAC had "committed several gross errors, including miscalculating the carbon dioxide emissions connected with the new runway". Having asked for more details, Jane's was told that "the FAC overestimated not only emissions that occur during take-offs and landings, but also those of the entire flight over Austria".

In addition, the FAC based its conclusions partly on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol: this was "incorrect", an FCC source said, as it only set out obligations until 2012.

ICAO predicts a threefold-to-sevenfold increase in aviation-related GHG emissions by 2050, but it believes carbon-neutral operations can be achieved by offsetting the additional output.

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