Aerotropolis developments

Environmentally destructive economic enclaves

Rose Bridger

Aerotropolis projects are among the largest megaprojects pursued by governments and corporations. These airport centric developments destroy farmland and forests, and act as economic enclaves, fostering corporate growth and excluding host communities.

All over the world, developments called an ‘aerotropolis’, or airport city, are being constructed, planned and announced. An aerotropolis is an airport-centric development: The airport is not built to serve a city; a city is built around an airport. Aerotropolis-style development began in Europe and the US in the 1990s, most notably around Schiphol and Dallas/Fort Worth airports. Ambitious aerotropolis plans are now emerging in Africa and Asia.

An aerotropolis is not a settlement for people. It is an urban form enabling explosive growth in aviation dependent tourism and trade. Commercial development clusters around an airport, and is integrated with air services, maximising the airport’s passenger and cargo throughput. Airport passengers are funnelled through shopping malls, hotels, cultural venues and office complexes. Manufacturing, assembly and logistics facilities are linked with the airport’s cargo operations. A symbiotic relationship is established, mutually reinforcing growth of the airport and the urbanisation surrounding it.

Loss of farmland and forests

Aerotropolis-style development requires large, preferably greenfield (undeveloped), sites. Use of farmland means that rural communities face displacement. Construction on wildlife habitats means irrevocable loss of biodiversity and deforestation.

Announcement of acquisition of 60 square kilometres of farmland for a greenfield airport in Bhogapuram, Andhra Pradesh, immediately met with major protests. About 7,000 people from 16 villages demonstrated outside government offices and blocked a highway, defying a threat by police that anyone participating in this action would be arrested. Villagers expressed concerns that they would be forced to give up their land for inadequate compensation.

Construction of Istanbul’s third airport, actually the start of a planned aerotropolis covering nearly 77 square kilometres, is tearing up forests and wetlands north of the city. It is part of an integrated complex of destructive megaprojects – including a third bridge over the Bosphorus Strait.

KilimanjaroInternational Airport in Tanzania claims 110 square kilometres of land as its “estate”, upon which it intends to establish “massive shopping centres, high class tourist hotels, duty free ports, Export Processing Zones, educational institutions, custom bonded warehouses, curio shops, golf courses and a large game ranch”. Over 10,000 people living in Maasai pastoralist communities on the site are resisting displacement.

In Nepal, 80 square kilometres has been earmarked for a second Kathmandu airport, at Nijgadh. The government allocated US$5 million for preparatory works, fencing off the site and felling forest in preparation for a potential Malaysian investor. Ministries reported disputes with locals over resettlement.

Community exclusion

Host communities are largely excluded from the governance of aerotropolis projects. Heavy-handed, centralised planning designates the site and the airport, or a consortium, is granted a high degree of autonomy.

Andal Aerotropolis in West Bengal, dogged by resistance to land acquisition since 2009, has been lavished with tax breaks but is unaccountable to citizens, having been bestowed with “industrial township” status granting it sweeping powers including planning and tax collection.

The Ethiopian government is selecting a 144 square kilometre site for a new Addis Ababa airport. Identification of five possible sites, each including large areas of farmland and home to over 10,000 people, was undertaken using satellite images.

Economic enclaves

Aerotropolis schemes claim to act as ‘economic engines’ galvanising growth in the wider region. More accurately they are economic enclaves, aspiring to become “destinations in their own right” - where passengers shop, eat, stay in hotels, enjoy cultural activities and conduct business meetings. The model for established major airport cities, including Dallas/Fort Worth and Schiphol is that the airport owns the land upon which aerotropolis development takes place, and reaps revenue from it. This gifting of land by the state is a form of subsidy. Aviation dependent firms on aerotropolis sites benefit from the almost universal tax exemption on fuel for international flights and concentrating economic activity within the project boundary.

Economic zones within the aerotropolis boundary, adjacent or connected by highways are gifted tax breaks and other incentives. Examples include Dube Tradeport IDZ (Industrial Development Zone), adjoining King Shaka Airport in South Africa, which describes itself as the “heart of the emerging Aerotropolis”. Several of India’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are linked with airports, including the Multimodal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur (MIHAN).

The Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM)

The aerotropolis provides physical infrastructure and a supporting regulatory framework for turbocharging corporate globalisation and locking us into aviation dependency, increasing fossil fuel consumption and worsening the climate crisis. Organisations working for social, economic and environmental justice have started to unite to oppose this disastrous model of development. In March 2015, they founded the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM) to raise public awareness and take action on socially and ecologically harmful mega-airport development projects.

Further information: Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement:

Rose Bridger is a founder member of the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM) and the author of “Plane Truth: Aviation’s Real Impact on People and the Environment”, Pluto Press, London, October 2013 (

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