From: Alice Taylor
Controversial Vlora Airport to Start Construction Phase in November

Construction work for the Vlora Airport will start in November, according to Minister of Infrastructure Belinda Balluku.

She made the announcement during the 70th Special Meeting of the General Directors of Civil Aviation of the European Civil Aviation Conference, attended by 44 Member States and various aviation organizations.

Balluku said that the fact that the airport will be built despite the pandemic is a great achievement.

The agreement for the construction of the airport was signed on April 20 l this year.

It will be built by Mabtex Group, owned by politician Bexhet Pacolli, which owns 50% of shares in the winning consortium. Other companies in the consortium include the YDA group (48%) and the 2A Group (2%), with an investment of EUR 1.9 million.

The airport’s construction in the Narta Lagoon, a protected area, has raised several concerns regarding the threat the airport presents to the environment, the habitat, and the existence of migratory birds.

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 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. The government has even nominated it as a candidate site for the Emerald Network under the Bern Convention.

Albania is a signatory of the Agreement on conserving 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 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 several 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.

Local mayor Dritan Leli argued that it used to be an airport. This is despite the fact it stopped being one in the 90s and was not receiving international flights from huge passenger liners multiple times a day. He said he wants it to be built as quickly as possible.

Other sites have been proposed nearby that are not in protected areas, but they have not been considered.

Albanian taxpayers will pay EUR 138 million from their pockets if the airport fails or does not meet expectations.

The contract states that the project carries high risks because it’s an airport 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 contract’s fourth year (the first year of operation), increasing to 18.6 million in the 13th year.