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Has flying reached its limits?

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To howls of outrage from airlines, the Netherlands has confirmed a cap on flight numbers at Schiphol airport in a bid to curtail noise pollution and climate emissions. The move raises difficult questions about whether the endless expansion of air travel is a net benefit or cost to the continent.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the aviation industry’s death due to the pandemic have been greatly exaggerated.

Those following aviation will recall the uncertainty over the future of the industry in 2020 and 2021, as countries shuttered their borders and flights were grounded.

Would the industry coax passengers back to the skies, or had COVID – with the mass adoption of Zoom calls, the acceptance of working remotely, and the rise of the “staycation” – diminished air travel irrevocably?

We now seem to have our answer: Passenger numbers across Europe are edging closer to 2019 levels, with the expectation that the figure may be surpassed.

Indeed, rather than contracting, airports are considering expanding to meet future demand – a move that often requires government approval.

Many airports are legally bound to not go beyond a certain number of flights or passengers, generally to prevent local communities from being inundated with noise.

But in the Netherlands, Dutch authorities have provoked the scorn of airlines by cutting the number of flights permissible at Amsterdam Schiphol, the country’s largest air hub.

Under a measure finally approved last week, the number of permitted flights will be slashed to 452,500 by next winter, 9.5% below 2019 levels.

The primary goal is to cut down on jet noise pollution, though the government also cited its climate ambitions in justifying the curtailment.

Dutch carrier KLM is expected to take the largest hit, but a host of airlines will feel the impact – US carrier Jet Blue, for example, is set to lose all of its Schiphol slots come summertime (by way of retaliation, the American airline is pushing US authorities to block KLM’s access to New York’s JFK airport).

Global airline trade association IATA warned the measure would have “severe consequences” for the Netherlands, including job losses and worsening trade relations, echoing the generally critical sentiment of the aviation industry.

And the Netherlands is not the only country where airport caps are making the news.

In Ireland, Dublin airport is fast approaching its annual limit of 32 million passengers.

To stay within the legal boundaries, the airport has asked airlines to reduce the number of ad-hoc flights they take, such as those added to meet demand driven by sports matches (by all accounts, their request was not well received).

However, in contrast to their Dutch counterparts, the Irish government seems favourable towards increasing the cap.

“Aviation is the main way that we get on and off this island for both trade and personal travel and capping that I think creates a difficulty,” said Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar.

DAA, the airport executive, has said it will seek permission to raise the cap to 40 million passengers – despite a massive increase in the number of aircraft noise complaints filed in the first half of 2023.

Ultimately, it is up to the local government in concert with state agencies to decide if the request is granted (though if authorities refuse the increase, one imagines the gales of criticism from Ryanair alone may surpass the noise pollution limits).

So, is the cost of ever-rising air travel more than we are willing to pay? Or are airports that follow the example of Schiphol foregoing the benefits of greater air connectivity?

It is a question European authorities will have to grapple with.

– Sean Goulding Carroll

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Germany’s federal and state governments have on late Monday evening (6 November) agreed on a package to speed up the roll-out of new infrastructure projects, such as railways and roads, including by automatically approving applications if there is no timely response by authorities.

The agreement came after Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) called for a “national effort” to cut red tape in September. With Monday’s agreement, this has been achieved, Scholz said.

“This is not just another politician saying that everything should be faster, but it is actually happening,” he told journalists, adding that the package included “probably 100 individual measures that are linked to this”.

According to government sources, the package includes measures to automatically approve certain applications for infrastructure projects if the relevant authority does not respond in time.

Among other things, the approval of nature conservation authorities would be “assumed or replaced in certain cases if it has not been refused within a certain period of time”.

In many cases, the agreement aims to make the best use of EU rules to facilitate the deployment of infrastructure. However, it also recognises that EU rules, such as those on environmental protection or access to justice, are sometimes an obstacle to faster approval of projects.

“If necessary, the German government will work towards appropriate changes in EU law,” the agreement says.

To further speed up infrastructure projects, construction should start before the final authorisation is granted. 

“In the case of projects for which there is a high probability of a later approval during an ongoing approval process, an early start of construction work can lead to significant time savings,” the government source said.

– Jonathan Packroff

Polish hauliers to block Ukraine border crossings in protest

Polish truckers will block several border crossings with Ukraine starting next week in protest at what they say is Ukrainian hauliers’ free rein in Poland that is hurting their business, a co-organiser of the protest told Reuters.

France leads EU’s electric vehicle charge as Stellantis posts huge uptick in sales

Car giant Stellantis, with most of its workforce in France, announced a 7% year-on-year sales increase on Tuesday, driven by a 37% rise in electric car sales, as the EU, with France in the driver’s seat, bets on home-grown electric vehicles (EVs) to counter China’s e-car offensive.

Volkswagen rejects Czech gigafactory location, citing low demand for EV batteries

Volkswagen will not set up more European gigafactories for producing electric vehicle (EV) batteries for the time being, the carmaker’s CEO Oliver Blume has revealed, despite Czechia hoping to receive investments from the automotive giant.

Want French cash? Stay in France, MP tells businesses

Multinationals who want access to French public investments must remain in the country for a minimum of ten years after receiving the funds, according to an amendment to the 2024 budget bill.

Loved or loathed, carbon capture is here to stay

Instead of attacking and seeking to halt carbon capture and storage, journalists and environmental campaigners should be holding oil companies and countries to account, demanding that they deliver on their CCS commitments, writes Robin Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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