Flight of fury

Dutch greens decry the expansion of Schiphol airport and jam the main runway, ready to face trial for high crime

By Jan Paul Smit
Published: Monday 15 April 1996

Flight jam: protestors block a (Credit: Michiel Wijnbergh)RECENT research conducted on the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, has shown that a large proportion of the population living around the airport has developed serious respiratory complaints. A higher than average number of people suffer from stress and cardiac problems. It is suspected that there may also be a high incidence of cancer.

In view of this situation, Environmental activists of the Friends of the Earth (FOE), Netherlands, took to protesting against airport the proposed expansion of the Schiphol by invading the airport's runway on November 12, 1995, displaying a banner saying: "Schiphol is big enough." As an aircraft was about to take off, the activists lined up arm-in-arm at the end of the runway. The control tower finally had to ask the pilot to abandon the run. "Environmental activists on the runway," boomed the tower. Due to this consorted effort, the authorities were forced to declare the runway "out of use".

Later, the agitating greens were arrested and ordered to appear before a court after three months, on February 16. The FOE activists were accused by the public prosecntor of endangering air safety which, in the Netherlands, is considered a serious criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of nine years' imprisonment.

Wijnand Duyvendak, leader of the campaign, said that despite numerous protests by the people, environmental organisations and experts, the Dutch government permitted the Schiphol airport authorities to build a fifth runway, which within 10 years time, will have doubled the air traffic. And this will render the area around the airport even more unlivable, with heightened noise 'and air pollution. Besides, three years ago, a cargo plane had crashed in an Amsterdam suburb, killing more than 40 people. Rise in such fatal incidents is also apprehended.

Said Duyvendak, "Air traffic causes enormous damage to the global environment. Before long, 15-20 per cent of the Dutch contribution to the greenhouse effect will be caused by air traffic from Schiphol. This will make Schiphol airport the largest polluter of the next century. The contribution to the nitrous oxide emission - a cause of acid rain - will also increase sharply."

According to the government's economic forecasting bureau's projections, doubling of the airport's capacity will create umpteen number of jobs. But with a total investment of us $20 billion, each job will cost us $1 million - about 10 times the average cost of creating a job in the Netherlands, which was not in environment friendly move, alleged Duyvencdak.

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