An assessment says plans to expand Cape Town International Airport will weigh heavy on surrounding communities.

Cape Town - The Airports Company SA (Acsa) wants to realign the runway at Cape Town International Airport to make room for larger aircraft and greater passenger numbers – but an environmental assessment says the increase in noise and air pollution would affect surrounding communities.

The final environmental impact assessment (EIA) scoping report has been released for public comment, with a deadline of August 1.

The concerns raised in the report, compiled by SRK Consulting for Acsa, are to be assessed during the next phase of the project’s EIA process.

According to Acsa, about 8.5 million passengers passed through the airport last year.

It says there are about 90 000 flights a year to and from Cape Town.

Lufthansa and Edelweiss airlines have increased their capacity on flights into Cape Town by more than 30 percent, which means using larger aircraft. Lufthansa’s vice-president for Africa, Tamur Gourdarzi, said the increase in capacity was a response to the growth in demand for flights to the city.

The proposed project would entail replacing the current runway with a new runway rotated 11.5 degrees, allowing for between 10 and 14 more aircraft to land and take off each hour. It would also be 300m longer to accommodate larger aircraft.

The airport boundary would be extended into land used by Cape Flats residents for informal activities on the east side.

Should the project go ahead, the current runway would continue to be used until the new runway was complete.

Among the primary concerns raised in the report was the increase in noise and decrease in air quality for Cape Flats communities currently unaffected by the sound and emissions of aircraft. The rotation of the runway would change the course aircraft follow in taking off and landing, meaning new communities would be affected.

Other adverse effects include:

* Dust generated during construction could affect visibility for aircraft, posing a safety risk.

* The development could affect the ability of local government to provide housing in the area surrounding the airport.

Parcels of land earmarked for the provision of housing are expected to fall into areas which would experience noise levels above guidelines for residential land use. However, land that was now considered unsuitable for this reason could experience lower noise, providing opportunities for development.

* Dune Strandveld natural and semi-natural, inland, isolated depression wetlands occur in the vacant area to the east of the airport. The report says although these wetlands have been disturbed and are under threat from alien vegetation, they are classified category 2 critical biodiversity area wetlands, with more than 75 percent natural land cover.

* Development of vacant land east of the runway could affect the remaining patches of Cape Flats Dune Strandveld vegetation in the dune system, as well as fauna and avifauna.

* Noise pollution and poor air quality would lead to a decrease in quality of life for surrounding communities who are not currently affected. Some informal activities take place on the vacant land earmarked for the runway and the project would cut communities off from it.

“Potential economic benefits are expected for both the City of Cape Town and Western Cape due to investment and growth in the tourism sector,” the report says.

The project would take about two years to complete.

Acsa spokeswoman Deidre Davids said the first scoping report for public comment had been released in November. Only 25 people had commented on this draft. “Given the number of people living in areas around the airport who could be affected by changes in noise levels, this low level of interest is concerning,” Davids said.

As of this month, Acsa has not considered alternatives, the report says.

Public comments are to be submitted directly to the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Davids said that if the further EIAs were approved by the department, construction would begin in 2016.

To read the report, visit:

Cape Times