Navigating the politics of airport growth

Airport growth is increasingly limited by environmental restrictions. With the worldwide air traffic demand increasing, many of the world’s airports are reaching the limits of their environmental capacity. However, further development is often a political minefield. We think smart management of community relations can help.

Pushing against the ceiling

Airport capacity expansion to meet growing demand can quickly hit the limits of aircraft noise ceilings, and there is always external pressure to set them even lower. For many airports, the ICAO’s balanced approach for aircraft noise, e.g. implementing noise abatement procedures and accommodating quieter airplanes, provide insufficient extra capacity.

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Pushing for higher aircraft noise ceilings is also difficult because there is, at the same time, greater public awareness of aviation’s negative impact in terms of noise and air pollution. Airport master planning becomes a complicated, politically charged endeavour.

Managing non-acoustic factors

Increasingly, the need for airport expansion and the extent to which communities will benefit or suffer is hotly debated. Getting to growth that appeases both sides certainly needs clear, fact-based communication about environmental consequences. We believe it also needs an advanced approach to managing community relations and other non-acoustic factors.

Environmental and economic impact assessments provide excellent insights into the social and economic impact of airport expansion. These technical assessments can include aircraft noise contours and heat maps of the noise footprint, calculations of the effects on air quality, and dose-response relationship analyses that identify those adversely affected.

The technical side is, however, not the only issue. Non-acoustic factors also influence a community’s attitude toward airport expansion plans. The general feeling toward the airport, trust in governmental or airport authorities, perceptions on influencing regulations, and overall satisfaction with their living environment can each profoundly affect the process. Managing non-acoustic factors early on can create a more positive attitude toward expansion.

Building community relationships

There are different ways in which governments manage airport expansion debates. Amsterdam and Vienna, for example, both undertook an extensive mediation process that led to binding agreements benefiting the airport and the community. For many airports, expansion debates are political, as with the discussions on Brussels airport and Heathrow’s 3rd runway.

Regardless of approach, the attitude of the community toward the airport is always a crucial factor. Public opinion sways authorities and small groups with strong opinions are often extremely vocal, but authorities need to seek out the opinions of the quiet majority to ensure an unbiased viewpoint.

Understanding non-acoustic factors and building stronger community relationships are essential for gaining support for airport expansion plans. Engaging the community on aircraft noise reduction action plans, supporting community and environmental projects and providing easily accessible complaint procedures are all excellent ways of doing that.

About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. For more information, please refer to

2 thoughts on “Navigating the politics of airport growth

  1. Great piece, M;aya. Prof. John Kasarda, who I interviewed for Intl. Airport Review a few months back, also touched on community opposition to airport expansion — especially, the aerotropolis.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Phillip. You are right, not only cities encroach airports but airports also become a metropolis on itself. As living, working and traveling become more integrated, environmental planning becomes more important.

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