Year in year out, Maastricht Aachen Airport (MAA) has to add millions in government money. Numerous (sometimes controversial) reports have been written and local residents complain about noise pollution and flying roof tiles. Previously, the discussion was about what is bigger or smaller, focusing on freight, or on more passengers. But closing the airport is also on the table this year.

According to new research, closure would even be the most favorable option for the owner of the province of Limburg. The airport is mainly reliant on cargo flights, but goods flown in mainly go to companies outside the province. There is also a lot of deferred maintenance. The airport needs a major overhaul.

The costs of lost employment are manageable, the researchers also reason. And because there are several other airports nearby, companies can divert their freight there. However, there are potentially high costs to prepare the site for another destination and a number of companies will have to be bought out if they close.

In June, the province will decide on the future of MAA and with that whether investments will be made. Only GroenLinks and the Party for the Animals already know that they will vote for closure, but no party is currently speaking in favor of keeping the airport.

‘Strong aviation lobby’

Nearby businesses emphasize the importance of the airport. Partly because of the corona pandemic, they do see a future. “We are seeing major shifts in the transport sector, especially in air freight,” says Arjan Hage of handling company Maastricht Logistics Services (MLS). “The airport benefits from this. Maastricht is all about freight.”

The local residents are opposed to the activity in and around the airport. They are satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, “but we are not at all reassured,” says Frank Wormer of the citizens’ initiative for local residents MAA. “We notice that the aviation lobby is very strong.”

Despite the positive outcome for them, local residents are critical of the design of the investigation. This is a so-called social cost-benefit analysis. It assigns a certain value to things that are difficult to express in monetary terms.

Benefits of the airport, such as a shorter travel time for people in the vicinity, weigh far too heavily, according to Wormer. At the same time, he believes that disadvantages for the environment, such as noise pollution, are minimized.

Director Jos Roeven of the airport is also critical of the investigation, but for a different reason. “If you close the airport, it costs hard euros,” he says, referring to the remediation and buying out companies. “Reducing the nuisance due to less noise and better air quality does not yield any money. In doing so, you shift the social costs of closing to other airports.”

The cost-benefit analysis shows that the renovation of the runway and major maintenance of the property will cost more than 70 million euros.

On the other hand, in the event of closure, the costs of remediation are uncertain. The researchers estimate that between 50 and 100 million euros, if a solar park is built, for example. Due to higher cleaning requirements, that amount will rise rapidly if the province wants to use the land for housing. Buying out companies at the airport quickly costs 40 million euros, although that estimate is very uncertain, according to the researchers.

“If they have a little bit of courage, they can only make one decision,” Wormer says about the province. “You have Eindhoven, Antwerp, Brussels, Liège, Cologne-Bonn, Düsseldorf and Weeze nearby. The airport is far too small in that international violence.”

“If you buy 200 hectares for 1 euro, you know that there is work to be done,” says director Roeven about the acquisition that the province made in 2014. He maintains that the airport will be able to stand on its own two feet by 2030. “We’re making the turn. Then why would you cut us down now?”

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