The French government has decided to scrap plans to construct a massive new terminal at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport in Roissy-en-France. As reported by Reuters, French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari has claimed that the uncertainty about the speedy recovery of air travel numbers in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic prompted the decision. “The project to receive 40 million more passengers by 2030 is probably no longer justified as it was planned,” Reuters relayed Djebbari as telling Europe 1 radio in a recent interview.
“Traffic is restarting very gradually,” added Djebbari, who noted that traffic in and out of French airports is currently at around 40 percent of their pre-COVID crisis levels. “We will see in September whether business clients return, that will give an indication for the end of the year and next year.
As mentioned by Djebbari, the fourth terminal at France’s largest international airport (it also ranks among the busiest airports in Europe and one of the top ten busiest in the world) would have allowed the sprawling, Groupe ADP-operated facility on the suburban outskirts of Paris to accommodate up to 40 million additional passengers annually while boosting capacity by 450 flights per day. Per BBC News, the estimated $10.9 billion megaproject would have given way to an “airport within an airport,” akin to constructing a brand new Orly Airport—Paris’s secondary airport—within the footprint of the Paul Andreu-designed Charles de Gaulle, which first opened in 1974. Construction on the new terminal, first announced in 2018, was slated to kick off later this year.
The fallout from COVID-19, however, is just part of the reason for the somewhat sudden about-face. France’s ambitious carbon emission targets have necessitated that the country invest heavily in infrastructural upgrades that help to accommodate new, more environmentally sustainable types of aircraft such as electric hydrogen-powered planes. Essentially, expansion plans at Charles de Gaulle directly conflicted with the nation’s climate goals, and the powers that be ultimately chose to invest in the latter.
“We will always need planes, but we must move towards a more reasonable use of air travel, and reach a reduction in the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions,” the BBC reports Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili as telling Le Monde of the now “obsolete” project, which had received significant pushback from local residents and environmental groups since it was first unveiled.
“The government has asked ADP to abandon its project and present a new one, more consistent with its objectives of combating climate change and protecting the environment,” Pompili added.
Similar plans to dramatically expand one of Europe’s busiest air travel hubs, London Heathrow Airport, had also been met with strong opposition from environmental groups and climate activists. In December of last year, however, the U.K. Supreme Court lifted a ban on the Grimshaw-designed expansion plans, effectively allowing construction work to move ahead in a blow to those rallying against the project. In Paris, the outcome for opponents to the Charles de Gaulle expansion could be described as a victory, although there is skepticism regarding what could be next as the government continues to retool and reassess its plans. As reported by The Independent, some environmental groups have requested “legal guarantees” that the fourth terminal at Charles de Gaulle is truly and permanently dead.
Although France has opted for now to slash emissions in lieu of boost capacity at its largest and busiest airport, that doesn’t mean there aren’t major changes on the horizon at Charles de Gaulle. As noted by Global Construction Review, the new vision for the airport outlined by the government, sans fourth terminal, will include improving its connection to the national rail network, converting the 12.5-square-mile complex to run on geothermal energy, and, as mentioned, building out infrastructure allowing the airport to accommodate hydrogen-fueled and electric planes.