14 DECEMBER 2015

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Article from BTNews 14 DECEMBER 2015

COMMENT EXTRA: It is all different in France! An airport controversy.

Jacques Bankir spent nearly 30 years at Air France and at one time was responsible for the then-AF CityJet subsidiary. 

He is not being drawn into the Davies Airports Commission controversy, but here he points out that France has airport problems too. For Nantes, also read Mirabel in Montreal, Madrid’s Ciudad Real Central, and Castellón, in Spain’s Valencia region, all ghost operations.  In Berlin, Brandenburg might actually come to life. Sometime!

Seen from south of the Channel, the lively debate on London airports appears comprehensive and totally open, with all solutions scrutinised, be it the Estuary project or new runways for Heathrow, Gatwick or even Stansted.

In the UK, existing noise patterns are properly and officially monitored.

In France it is different. Not that there are no clever people. Everyone knows that here, we admire intellectuals. But there is a pattern of incestuous relationships between politicians, top civil servants and heads of major companies that somehow makes a debate impossible. It is the most pleasant country to live in and no one wants to hurt anyone.

That is how a project such as the Nantes Notre Dame des Landes Airport has become an embarrassment, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announcing that construction is to resume at the highly-controversial aerodrome. The announced €580m project that will actually cost billions has divided government officials as well as opposition parties, citizens and activists in a series of clashes, triggering a halt to construction at the end of 2012.

The origin goes back to the 1960s. The idea was to build a prestigious airport for the west of the country, for noisy aircraft such as Concorde that could be over the ocean and go supersonic instantly, acting as a hub with short-haul aircraft feeding from the whole of Europe. 

The project was revived in the early 2000s by politicians, obviously manoeuvred by businessmen with great construction schemes in mind. The administration obligingly demonstrated that a new airport was needed, and blocked any progress at the present Nantes operation such as less noisy descent patterns or extending the tram by just one mile.

The problem is Nantes Airport is more than adequate to cater for a growth figure forecast to reach no more than 7m to 9m passengers and is currently running at around 4m. And the airport has even been elected best regional airport by ERA, the operators’ association.

Why spoil 3,000 acres (the size of Heathrow) of untouched wetland to handle one-tenth of the Heathrow traffic?

The net result is a confused government and opposition parties that all play demography and on the feelings of ignorant voters who say: “Why should the West not have its prestigious airport?

It is different in France!

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