France to Scrap ‘Obsolete’ Paris Airport Expansion

Passengers from Taiwan wear protective gear at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport in Roissy, north of Paris, last Monday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS (AFP) — The French government has decided to cancel a planned expansion of the country’s biggest airport, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, a minister said in remarks published Thursday.

Barbara Pompili, France’s environment minister, told Le Monde newspaper that boosting the airport’s capacity was not in keeping with efforts to fight global warming.

The government had therefore asked airport operator ADP, in which it owns a majority stake, to scrap the current project “and present a new one, more consistent with its objectives concerning climate change and the protection of the environment.”

ADP said the move was “one of the outcomes of the Covid-19 crisis” and said it would now begin “a period of reflection” about the airport’s future role. 

The decision comes a week after a court held the state had failed to take sufficient measures to halt climate change, a first in France.

The now defunct plan called for the construction of a fourth terminal by 2037 to boost the airport’s capacity by 40 million passengers per year.

Pompili called the project “obsolete” because it no longer corresponded to the government’s environmental policy and the needs of “a sector in full transformation toward the green aircraft of the future.”

‘Idiotic project’

The plan, with an estimated cost of between 7 and 9 billion euros ($7.5-10.9 billion), had already run into resistance from environmental activists and local politicians as well as from the national environmental agency which said it fell short in terms of climate protection.

Le Monde said the government did not want the next project to focus on any extension of capacity.

“We will always need planes, but we must move towards a more reasonable use of air travel, and reach a reduction in the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Pompili said.

A sharp fall in air passenger numbers following Covid-19 restrictions worldwide recently prompted Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari to say that boosting the airport’s capacity now seemed like “an audacious bet.”

Pompili’s announcement was welcomed by France’s Green party, with its head Julien Bayou saying it was “a great victory for environmentalists” against what he called “an idiotic project.”

He added, however, that the cancellation was “the least the government could do,” saying France needed a more forward-looking policy to fight climate change than just “giving up projects.”

Audrey Pulvar, a Socialist candidate for upcoming elections in the Paris region, said the government’s decision was “logical and necessary,” while rival leftist politician Clementine Autain said she worried about preserving jobs at the airport “during this terrible crisis” due to Covid.

The head of France’s employers’ association Medef, Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, said, however, that the outright cancellation of the expansion plans was “premature.” 

A group of NGOs, including Greenpeace France, meanwhile demanded “legal guarantees” that any new plan for the project does not include an expansion after all.

Charles de Gaulle airport, which opened in 1974, handled more than 76 million passengers in 2019, making it the second-busiest airport in Europe after London Heathrow.


by Tangi QUEMENER and Jurgen HECKER
© Agence France-Presse

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