The current Lisbon Airport, the Humberto Delgado airport, was first opened in 1942, and has since been through various changes and improvements. However, in recent years the airport has reached what most believe, to be its peak capacity and can therefore no longer take any more significant increases in traffic. This lead to the resurgence of the debate over a new airport.
The original discussions about a new airport for the capital date back to 1969, and several locations have since been studied. Ota, Rio Frio, Montijo, Alcochete are the most studied areas, all of which are located in the southern bank of the Tagus river, which borders the capital of Lisbon. When the country entered it's crisis in the early 2000's, the debate came to a halt as funds were being used elsewhere.
As such, in 2014, once the country had finished its dealings with the European Bank and the IMF, the debate rose again about how to solve this issue. Tourism is one of the country’s main source of income, with people from all over the world coming to see the historical sites in Lisbon, or see the natural beauty of O’ Porto and the interior, or even more, to spend a week’s vacation in the sunny beaches of Algarve. With such a tourism heavy industry, a better airport could only benefit the country right?
Well, in 2018 the government finally came to an arrangement with ANA, the national airport agency, owned by the French group VINCI. The arrangement concluded that a new airport would be built in what is currently the Military Base of Montijo, which would serve as a secondary hub for the city, connected to it by the neighboring Vasco da Gama bridge and a new fluvial connection directly from the airport. In addition to this, the existing airport in Portela would get an upgrade to its facilities, with new gates added and a new concourse built on the opposite side to the runway.
While this deal satisfied both ANA and the government, it received heavy criticism from environmental agencies all over the country, with some stating that Montijo would cause a disturbance to the nearby natural park of the Tagus river, home to hundreds of native bird species. While on a more recent report by the Zero agency, the amount of noise produced by airplanes landing during the night over the city breaks the legal limits set by the law.
Will The Project Go Forward?
At the time of writing, it seems that construction is in fact going to be approved once the environmental impact study reaches parliament, however, it won’t be without its hassles. While ANA is eager to begin works on Montijo, it faces a lot of criticism from people living in the city, who don’t want to be disturbed by the noise, as well as agencies that still defend the huge impact that this new hub will have on local wildlife.
The new construction on Montijo, will see airlines such as Ryanair move from their base in Portela over to the other bank of the river. In addition to this, it will see an increase of 4 hourly movements over the existing airport, making it an even bigger hub for the country.
However, in an even more recent report, a military study group has stated that the Montijo + Portela solution is a "solution without a future". As stated by DN, the agency said that this new solution would only work for 8 to 15 years until the saturation of the skies becomes an issue again. What effect will this have on the construction, only time can tell.
So What About The Other Options?
Considering the many options studied over the years, the most reliable one and most debated one would be a brand new airport in Alcochete, however, this new construction would require a significant investment from both ANA and the government, as new highways and other means of transport would have to be built in order to facilitate access to the city. In addition to this, the new project would take years to complete.
With all of these in mind, it's very unlikely that a brand new airport will be constructed as the owner of ANA, VINCI, has yet to express any interest in such a big undertaken. In addition to this, due to the still fragile situation in the country, it is also unlikely that public funds of such grandeur will be available any time soon.
However, the Alcochete project has been laid out and studied completely, and, if built, would include two runways, several dozens of gates, idle aircraft parking, a low-cost terminal, hotels, parking garages, high-way connections and a state of the art terminal, capable of handling a significantly bigger amount of flights when compared to the current airport.
What If The Environmental Study Fails?
The current situation can only go forward if the environmental study is approved, however, during the Portugal Air Summit of 2019, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luis Miguel Ribeiro, the president of ANAC, or the National Civil Aviation Authority, who is responsible in overseeing the technical side of new civil aviation projects.
When asked about the possible failure of the study Dr. Ribeiro stated that he hopes the study is approved because otherwise, the congestion over the existing airport would prove too much during the period of infrastructure improvements and would likely cause major delays.
Although he did not directly comment on the issue at large, it does seem like the construction works on the existing airport will happen independently of Montijo’s approval. In the same interview, Isabel Heitor, a representative of ANA, stated that a new hub airport would prove to be far too expensive and time consuming, and that the current solution is ideal for the country.
Where Does This All Leave Us?
Well, it is quite hard to say, but we can only hope that whatever solution is put forward will fix the huge congestion problems at the current airport and will leave the majority of the public happier over the situation.
Who knows, maybe in ten years time we’ll be discussing this issue yet again, and maybe then we’ll reach a different consensus.