Prague Airport - is it too noisy?
A controversy well known in all cities that lie close to major airports is also very much alive here in Prague - complaints from local people about excessive noise and demands that the airport contribute towards improving the living conditions in the towns most affected. Olga Szantova has been following the situation at and around Prague's Ruzyne airport.
The villages around the airport have joined in an organisation to protect their rights. The organisation's chairman, Dobrovize mayor Jiri Rubner, says that the airport is refusing to co-operate, and that the villages intend to stand up for their rights. One of the reasons for the excessive noise, he says, is that many pilots do not respect flight regulations, and the airport authorities do not fine the pilots, nor the airlines they fly for. I asked the spokesman for Czech Airlines Dan Plovajko, for his opinion.
"Well, I can only talk on behalf of Czech Airline pilots, but I have to say that all our pilots strictly follow the regulations and restrictions introduced for approach or take-off at the Prague International Airport. These regulations apply not only to Czech Airlines, but to all carriers serving the Prague Airport. Another question is whether all airlines follow the regulations."
And what does the spokesperson for Prague Airport Vlasta Pallova have to say?
"I certainly do not consider that accusation true. Prague Airport does control the sound level of each aeroplane landing or taking off. But there are no laws enabling us to fine pilots who do not take the necessary precautions. We do our utmost to keep the noise level down. For example, we have two major runways, and whenever possible use the one from which planes take off over less densely populated areas. We follow the noise levels on and around the airport, and the figures show that the noise made by cars on one of the main roads leading into Prague is much greater than that at Ruzyne airport."
Mrs. Pallova added that this does not mean that the airport was neglecting its obligations towards people living in its vicinity. For the past three years they have been spending 60 million crowns a year on new windows, treble glazing and so on.
But Jiri Rubner says this is not enough. He wants much wider compensation - for example asking the airport to pay for the laying of gas pipelines to the villages, to make life easier for the people living there.
Vlasta Pallova does not consider these demands feasible. And the spokesman for Czech Airlines, Dan Plovajko says that the standards at Ruzyne airport are fully satisfactory.
"We fly to 62 airports around the world. If I were to talk about regulations and standards, I have to say that Prague airport is really on West European standards, so there is no way in which the Prague airport would be in any way worse than the other airports in Europe. I would say that they strictly follow regulations and I don't think there is any serious concern about Prague airport compared to other airports in Europe."
Prague Airport is growing, the number of passengers in the year 2000 was just under 6 million, in 2010 it will be over 11 million, that's twice as many. But Mrs Pallova says that will not increase the noise level at Ruzyne
"The important thing is that airlines are discarding all their old and much noisier planes and exchanging them for more economic, and quieter ones. That is also true of the former Soviet airlines, where the problem has been most serious."
Czech Airlines' Dan Plovajko agrees that the growing number of passengers does not necessarily mean an increase in the noise level at the airport. Earlier this year Czech Airlines joined the Skyteam group, making Prague the gateway to Eastern Europe for many passengers.
"Membership in the Skyteam lines doesn't mean an increase in the number of airlines flying to Prague, because, as CSA is a member of the alliance, only Czech Airlines will be using the airport. So the passengers from the alliance will be going through Prague, but on board Czech Airlines. Next year we are planning a ten percent increase, but I have to say that all the operations on our airline are done on state-of-art aircraft, which are the most environmentally friendly on the market."
But the complaints of people living around Prague airport continue and Mr Rubner is planning further activities. He was willing to talk about them in more detail in two week's time, when he returns from his holiday abroad. When I phoned him, he was in a great hurry to catch his flight to Greece.