After years of soaring growth in airline traffic, Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen was officially opening its spacious new northern terminal on Thursday. Now debate is flying over whether the airport should also get funding to build a third runway.
The huge expansion project at Oslo Lufthavn Gardermoen (OSL) has been in the works since 2013 and is adding 17 new gates to handle both domestic and international flights. Construction has proceeded without the disruption often associated with such major projects, and almost without passengers even noticing.
“We have undertaken one of the biggest public building projects for many years in Norway without daily airline traffic being affected, and we’ve finished on time,” OSL director Øyvind Hasaas told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently. “We’re proud of that.”
The new terminal, called Pir Nord, extends for 300 meters north of the original terminal at the airport that opened in 1998. It replaced Oslo’s old airport at Fornebu and was built to handle around 17 million passengers a year. By 2014, nearly 24 million passengers were traveling to and from the airport and now, the new capacity will allow OSL to handle 32 million passengers a year.
The massive construction project, which has cost nearly NOK 14 billion, (USD 1.6 billion) has proceeded on schedule, with the new areas it created being gradually put into use starting last year. In addition to all the new gates and a much bigger baggage claim area, the project has ushered in a big expansion of restaurants, shopping and the hugely popular tax-free sales area, proceeds from which are used to finance airport operations at smaller airports all over Norway.
Now officials at state airports agency Avinor are already planning more expansion, with another new international terminal geared to handle more intercontinental traffic planned by Norwegian Air and other carriers. Norwegian wants to launch many new flights next year between Asia and Norway, while Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is also keen to launch new direct and non-stop international routes. Growth of flights in and out of the non-Schengen area of Europe will require new separate customs and immigration areas.
Airport officials contend that such growth means OSL will also need a third runway but that’s controversial. Environmental organizations are already upset that all the increased airline traffic is adding to Norway’s rising carbon emissions at a time when they’re supposed to be cut. Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party is also among politicians strongly opposed to even more expansion of OSL.
“It’s completely meaningless and unnecessary, not least when we still have Moss Lufthaven Rygge nearby and sitting empty,” Elvestuen told DN, referring to the smaller airport south of Oslo that shut down when Ryanair abandoned it because of objections to an airline seat tax ushered in by Elvestuen’s own party. “It must be possibly to use the capacity we already have.”
He also stressed that Avinor officials, which sought funding to plan for a third runway in the new national transport plan released just before Easter, can’t decide on their own to build a new runway since it would have negative environmental consequences both locally and internationally.
“This is a political issue, and we don’t need to build up unnecessary competition between airports in Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen,” Elvestuen said. “We should rather look for more Scandinavian cooperation in handling airline traffic.”
OSL director Hasaas remains bullish on a third runway, and claims that if OSL doesn’t keep adding capacity, travel and tourism growth will simply occur elsewhere. The government, meanwhile, is letting Avinor continue planning for more expansion even though it hasn’t made a decision on whether to allow and fund a third runway. Environmental organization Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) criticized the government for not addressing the runway issue in its new National Transport Plan.
“We think it’s very serious that the third runway isn’t better analyzed to see what consequences it would have,” the organization’s deput leader Gaute Eiterjord told newspaper Dagsavisen. He claims the new runway would put more pressure on local farmland, generate more noise for local residents and allow expansion of the climate-unfriendly airline industry.
“The question of whether to build a third runway should have been discussed in connection with the National Transport Plan and all transport projects it will affect,” Eiterjord said. “Airline traffic remains one of the biggest single sources of carbon emissions.” He wants the plans for a new runway to be permanently grounded.