Implications of Incomprehensive Assessments: The Case of the Vienna International Airport and Apprehensive Locals


Key components of environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are the appropriate identification, projection, and significance weighting of adverse impacts that a proposed project may have (Noble 2010). It is crucial that assessments appropriately identify and consider impacts that are expected to be significant, including those that are of concern to stakeholders such as locals who may have to deal with project impacts in the long term. Proposed projects that have incomprehensive EIAs which do not adequately identify and assess such impacts—or worse yet, projects with possibly adverse impacts that lack EIAs altogether—will likely produce apprehension among active stakeholders. A case in point is the expansion of Austria’s international airport, the Vienna-Schwechat airport, and the conflict triggered by its lack of appropriate EIA.

 Vienna-Schwechat International Airport

The Vienna International Airport after several runway and terminal expansions, 2012.

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The expansion of this airport has been more or less continuous since 1995, though much to the demise of concerned stakeholders, several such expansions have not had comprehensive EIAs before recent years (Hart 2013; Dorsch Gruppe 2012). In fact, the Minister-President of Land Niederösterreich (the State of Lower Austria) declared in 2001 that EIAs were not at all required for the continued development of the airport (Hart 2013; Knook 2013). The principal controversy related to the absence of comprehensive EIAs for airport expansions in this case lies in the fact that property values for some who live near the airport have significantly decreased with no consideration due to the added noise and air pollution incurred (Hart 2013). The unease of concerned locals has only been strengthened by the obvious government bias towards completing airport expansions, as the government of Lower Austria is a large shareholder in the airport that would benefit from increased passenger capacity expansions would entail (Wurz 2010).

One homeowner whose property value in Land Niederösterreich decreased with the expansion of the airport’s runway system called much public attention to the issue when she sued Austria and Lower Austria for € 144,000 (approximately CAD $ 223,500) for not requiring that a comprehensive EIA be performed (Dotinga 2013; BOC 2013; Justis Publishing Ltd 2013). In addition to suing the republic and region, the displeased homeowner requested that proponents of further expansions to the airport who do not perform a proper EIA be liable for damages such as decreased property values (Hart 2013). Since the guidelines for an appropriate EIA do not necessitate the assessment of impacts the expansion has on property values—as specified in Artcile 3 of the EIA Directive—, the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled that proponents would not be liable for carrying out expansions in the absence of EIAs that consider such value loss (Hart 2013; Justis Publishing Ltd 2013; Knook 2013). The court suggested that in order to strengthen the argument that an absence of an adequate EIA was responsible for incurred damages, actively concerned homeowners would need to somehow prove that the performance of such an EIA would have lessened acquired property value losses—either by resulting in altered development plans or adapted behaviours of homeowners after consulting such an EIA (Hart 2013; Justis Publishing Ltd 2013). Proving this is no easy task, as many projects often carry on without avoiding impacts identified in EIAs (Hart 2013). Though the Court of Justice has had its say on the matter, the situation is to be dealt with ultimately by the national court, whose decision is currently pending (Dotinga 2013; Knook 2013).

This case is illustrative of the fact that public participation is crucial in the planning and assessment of a project, as it can help in determining impact significance and provide a mean of lessening the apprehension of stakeholders (Noble 2010). Of course in the context of expanding an airport, local stakeholders may always be concerned with potential impacts such as increases in noise and air pollution for health and monetary reasons (Wurz 2012; Dorsch Gruppe 2012). However, meaningful public involvement in the impact assessment and management process may lessen such concerns by lessening the feeling of a project’s imposition on a population, and making mitigative alternatives feasible (Noble 2010). By performing a comprehensive assessment that considered public concerns, Austria and expanders of the airport may have considered the impact of property value loss, avoided the conflict incurred with locals, as well as foregone the negative image that has come along with this internationally reported issue.


Cartoon regarding ineffective airport noise mitigation, an issue that some homeowners near airports must endure.

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