From: Alice Taylor
Albanian Government Signs Agreement to Build Airport in Protected Area

The agreement for the start of the works on the Vlora Airport was signed today in Albania.

A consortium of companies including Mabetex Group (50%), YDA-Group (48%), and he 2A Group shpk (2%) won the tender worth EUR 100 million. Mabetex is owned by businessman and politician Behgjet Pacolli, and YDA is Turkish-owned and responsible for the construction of Fier Hospital.

Rama claimed the airport will bring thousands of job opportunities as well as returns from tickets, and the spending power of visitors.

What Rama didn’t mention is the clauses in the contract that state the taxpayers must pay EUr 138 million if the concession fails or isn’t profitable.

The document states that the project carries high risks because it’s an airport that is being built from scratch in a green area and it’s impossible to predict traffic. It also states that a consultant contracted by the Contracting Authority forecasted a low rate of return of just 9.23%.

Due to this, the Albanian government will assume a “revenue guarantee” which means they will pay the winning consortium if the airport fails. The schedule states that the consortium will receive EUR 9.6 million in the fourth year of the contract (the first year of operation), increasing to 18.6 million in the 13th year.

In February, dozens of local and international environmental organizations wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Edi Rama to highlight their concerns over the project. They said it would cause “irreversible damage to the ecosystem of the Vjosa-Narte Protected Landscape.”

They added that such an investment would bring uncontrolled and unsustainable development models that risk irreversibly damaging the natural value and resources of the area.

The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the region as a Category V protected landscape. This means it has a distinct and valuable character in terms of its ecological, biological, cultural, aesthetic, and other features. It is also in the Albanian Protected Area Network, is an Important Bird Area, and a Key Biodiversity Area. It almost meets the criteria to be classified as a Wetland of International Importance. It has even been nominated by the government as a candidate site for the Emerald Network under the Bern Convention.

Albania is a signatory of the Agreement on the conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) which relates to 92 species found at Narta. More than 200 other species are monitored in the area, two-thirds of which are protected under international conventions, and tens of which are endangered.

But this hasn’t stopped plans for the airport. In the letter sent by 36 organizations, it’s also noted that the government’s decision potentially violates a number of national laws, international laws, and EU Directives on wildlife conservation.

Furthermore, the area is an important section of the Adriatic Flyway, in which hundreds of thousands of birds forage and take shelter during the migrations season. Birds like pelicans, herons, gulls, and flamingos are big enough to put the safety of planes and people at serious risk in case of collisions.

The government claim that as the airport will be built on the site of the old Akerni Airfield, this doesn’t matter. The fact is that while this was once an airport back during the communist era, it did not deal with a large number of commercial planes coming and going.

Screenshot 2021 04 20 at 1.18.43 PM

Furthermore, the airfield sits within the Vjose-Narta Delta Protected Area. It also sits just 3.5 km from the shores of the Vjose River which has been at the center of an international campaign to protect it.