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A debate on the future of Dublin Airport: Should it be allowed to expand?

The airport authority says raising passenger numbers to 40 million is critical for national development. Not everyone agrees

Ciarán Cuffe: No, the expansion plan is an affront to the affected communities, and Ireland’s climate efforts

Dublin Airport authority (DAA)’s expansion plan creates an unacceptable level of exposure to noise and air pollution for north Dublin residents, and facilitates a massive expansion in aviation emissions. Astonishingly, the plan contains no proposals to reduce or mitigate these impacts in the surrounding areas. It is an affront to the affected communities, and Ireland’s climate efforts. It must be rejected.

People living in north Dublin are already dealing with serious noise pollution issues due to the volume of flights in and out of Dublin Airport. Enforcement complaints are under active investigation by Fingal County Council in relation to alleged breaches of the new north runway’s planning permission (DAA rejects any claim that it is in breach of planning). Some locals report they can smell aviation fuel in the air and fear there are public health risks.

The DAA failed to hold sufficient public consultations or distribute leaflets about the expansion plan, or indeed include any measures to reduce or mitigate the localised impacts of expansion in their application. Few would be surprised that the resulting plan gives little to no consideration to the impact on local communities. It is to the credit of local councillors, TDs, and resident associations like the St Margaret’s Ward Forum group, that local communities were duly informed.

The DAA plan foresees an unacceptable 24 per cent increase in aviation emissions. Any increase in aviation is incompatible with stopping runaway climate change. While currently responsible for 3.8 per cent of the EU’s CO2 emissions, the global warming potential of aviation is not limited to CO2 emissions alone. The warming effect of aviation is up to three times higher when other emissions from flying are considered. Even with the impact of sustainable aviation fuels, more flights will increase emissions in the short- to medium-term. We need demand management measures like the passenger cap now, more than ever. There is, therefore, no justification for increasing emissions by 24 per cent in this context, particularly as other sectors make difficult but important changes to achieve reductions.


Continued failure to hold the aviation industry to account for the emissions it produces emboldens operators and airlines alike to plan their operations in blind pursuit of economic gain without giving a second thought to the social or environmental impact of their activities. The DAA has repeatedly suggested that not expanding will “hurt” their sustainability goals. It betrays a view that the authority bears no responsibility for the emissions produced by the airlines it hosts, which can only be true as long as the authority ignores the indispensable role it plays in facilitating those emissions. While DAA’s efforts to reduce emissions per passenger such as building a solar power farm and electric charging should be applauded, the resulting emission savings will be small when compared with increasing flight emissions. Until the industry is held accountable, aviation will remain the wild west of climate action.

It has been suggested that Ireland would forego economic growth and thousands of jobs if the passenger cap were not increased. Job creation in Ireland is thankfully not contingent on endless expansion in aviation, and more jobs can and will be created as we transition to a greener economy. They may be created, for example, in domestic production of sustainable aviation fuel or works to improve transport links to and from the airport. In the absence of a legitimate reason for increasing the passenger cap that justifies its significant social and environmental impacts, the application cannot be approved. The profound failure by the authority to be accountable for the increased noise and air pollution and emissions in their expansion plan is regrettable.

Ciarán Cuffe is Green Party MEP for Dublin

Andrea Carroll: Yes it must go ahead. Maintaining a cap of 32 million passengers per year at Dublin Airport is a misguided approach to reducing emissions

While aviation only accounts for around 3 per cent of global carbon emissions, the sector is well aware of its responsibilities in helping to address the global climate challenge. It is a challenge that DAA accepts and is tackling head-on, with a full focus on reducing the carbon emissions that our operations generate (Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions) by 51 per cent by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions across our group by 2050 at the latest. We are not shying away from the bigger picture either, as we work concertedly with all other players in the aviation sector, including our airline partners, to reduce and eliminate carbon emissions – including those produced by planes flying in the sky.

Maintaining a cap of 32 million passengers per year at Dublin Airport is a misguided approach to reducing emissions. The reality is that any flights that can’t be accommodated at Dublin Airport as a result of the cap will simply move to another airport – not necessarily in Ireland – but likely in another capital city airport elsewhere in Europe. Ireland’s answer to climate change cannot be to push the issue across the Irish Sea and simply make it someone else’s problem.

And it’s not just important connectivity that we’ll lose as a result. Independent analysis conducted last year by InterVistas indicates that maintaining the current 32 million cap would lead to Ireland forgoing 17,800 new jobs and €1.5 billion in economic growth by 2030. By 2055, the number of jobs lost to Ireland would be 53,300 – equivalent to the population of Waterford city – while €4.4 billion would be lost to the economy.

Maintaining the cap would also have huge implications for Ireland’s business sector, with trade and visitor numbers being constrained. A national airport that is not allowed to grow will hugely damage Ireland’s ability to attract investment from overseas. It will also hurt Ireland’s attractiveness to tourists.

Enabling those flights to come to Dublin, the city region with the best transport connections to the rest of the country, would be the best option. That’s because Dublin Airport has both the ambition and the plan to be the most sustainable major airport in Europe. Dublin Airport’s base airlines already boast some of the youngest, quietest and most fuel-efficient aircraft fleets in the world, while the planning application that DAA has submitted to Fingal County Council includes more than 20 game-changing sustainability projects – matched by a planned spend of more than €400 million – that will make our operations among the most environmentally friendly of any of our peer airports in Europe.

DAA remains focused too on reducing the impact of our operations on our neighbours. Progress is being made, with the number of people significantly impacted by aircraft noise at Dublin Airport reducing by almost 50 per cent between 2019 and 2022. We will continue to do more with our local communities in the years ahead.

It is a reality that Ireland is – and always will be – a proud island nation, so ensuring international connectivity by air will always be vital. When you then consider that Ireland’s population is forecast to grow by around 25 per cent by the end of the decade, it’s clear that the importance of our airports is only going to increase. Dublin Airport as the country’s main gateway will need to be able to accommodate 40 million passengers per annum by 2030 just to keep pace with population growth.

The plan is absolutely not about growth at all costs. We fully recognise that, together with our airline partners and the entire aviation ecosystem, we must play our part in a national effort to address climate change. The speedy approval of our infrastructure application will allow us to deliver on that.

Andrea Carroll is group head of sustainability at DAA, the operator of Dublin Airport