EU funds for Modlin and Secondary Airports in Poland

Monday 22 July 2013

Modlin, a secondary airport for Warsaw, 40 kilometres to the north of the city centre, opened in summer 2012. This report from the Mazovia region states that EU funding for the project totalled nearly €44 million. In spite of the public money poured into the Modlin Airport, it has been a fiasco. The runway was shut down in December 2012. It had to be shortened from 2.5 km to 1.5 km, because of cracks and flaking on the surface which made it unsafe, rendering it useless for large planes.


For over six months, repairs to the runway were unsuccessful. The surface kept cracking, and a series of target dates for reopening it were missed. Modlin Airport re-opened on 3rd July. It turned out the contractor that built the runway, Erbud, had been using the wrong type of concrete.
Since Poland’s accession to the EU, in 2004, aviation has grown rapidly all over the country.

Growth has been supported by EU funds, as detailed in a very interesting report published by CEE Bankwatch Network in July 2012 – ‘Poland – Flights of Fancy: A case study on aviation and EU funds in Poland’, written by Przemek Kalinka of Polish Green Network. Air passenger numbers increased from 8.8 million in 2004 to 21.7 million in 2011. Growth has been supported by EU funds, from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Cohesion Policy, set to total up to €800 million between 2007 and 2013.

A high proportion of this EU funding has flowed to Poland’s smaller regional airports. Existing regional airports operate at a loss. They are economically unviable and a waste of public funds. Proposed new regional airports, at planning or construction stage, are likely to be a further drain on public funds. Regional authorities co-finance the investments, and will shoulder the costs of operating and maintaining the new airports.

In addition, regional and local governments paid airlines to introduce and maintain services. Frequently this took the form of paying airlines for ‘promotion’.  Such as placing the region’s logo inside aircraft and including information in onboard magazines. Regional authorities stepped in to provide another form of financial support, offering airlines discounts on airport fees.

Other forms of transport

Railway connections to Poland’s airports have also been supported by EU funds. The emphasis of the rail development is on serving airports, not connecting local communities. Expensive rail connections, solely serving airports, took precedence over investment in regional railway lines. The latter would meet local mobility needs and facilitate a modal shift from air to rail. That would bring a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The sites allocated for two new airports, one under construction at Lublin and the other planned at Bialystock, could be connected with high speed rail to Warsaw, and Poland’s largest airport, with journey times of just 90 minutes. One of the most controversial railway upgrade (the only one in the EU Regional Operating Programme for the Warminsko-Mazurskie region) is a link between the regional capital, Olsztyn, and Szymany, which is the site of another planned airport.

Poland’s airport construction bonanza threatens important wildlife sites. The proposed site for the Bialystok airport is at Tykocin. If the project goes ahead it will have a negative impact on eight Natura 2000 sites, selected by the EU for their ecological importance, as habitats for rare and vulnerable species, and designated for nature protection. The high concentration of bird life means a high risk of collisions with aircraft, posing a safety risk.
The recently re-opened Modlin Airport is in close proximity to several of Poland’s Natura 2000 sites, near the confluence of two rivers, Narew and Vistula. The area is an important stopover site for migratory birds, so endangers this birdlife and brings the risk of bird strikes.

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