Viterbo airport plan scrapped

The Italian government has cancelled plans to develop Viterbo airport in northern Lazio as the “third airport of Rome”, according to the minister of economic development, infrastructure and transport, Corrado Passera.

Instead the government will direct its funding towards major hubs such as Fiumincino in Rome, Malpensa in Milan and Marco Polo in Venice. The contents of the government’s Airport Development Plan provide a final blow for Viterbo, a military airbase which the transport ministry designated for expansion as the capital’s third airport in late 2007, with Viterbo beating off the two other contenders Frosinone and Latina, both located south of Rome.

Under Passera’s new plan, Viterbo is not included among the 31 Italian airports listed for development. The national scheme envisages a major restructuring of the airport sector, with investment going into the infrastructure of larger airports, while the management of smaller airports may be transferred to regional authorities which will decide their fate. The plan comes at a time when many smaller airports are struggling and some face closure.

It now seems likely that government funds previously sanctioned for Viterbo airport will be directed to Fiumicino, in line with the recent approval of the €12-billion development plan by ADR (Rome’s airport management company) and ENAC (Italy’s civil aviation authority) to double the capacity of Rome's main airport.

The Viterbo airport proposal had always been controversial and, due to its distance from Rome as well as its lack of adequate transport connections, it was seen by many as a "white elephant" from the start. Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno was known to be sceptical about bringing air traffic 90 km away from the capital while Michael O'Leary, the head of Ryanair, was one of the most vocal critics of the airport’s development. Two years ago he scoffed that it was likely that "we, and probably our children, will be dead before it is built."

The original plan had been that Viterbo would relieve pressure on Rome’s two airports and in particular would assume the low-cost companies from the capital's second airport Ciampino. Although this would have been welcomed by the residents of Ciampino, who have long complained over noise and air pollution, the plan was firmly resisted by Ryanair, Ciampino's principal client. The proposal was also opposed by archaeological groups who cited Viterbo airport’s proximity to a recognised Etruscan heritage site.

In total there are 112 airports in operation in Italy: 90 airports serve the general public only; 11 are run by the military but are open to civilian air traffic; and another 11 are exclusively for military use.