Court approves major Frankfurt airport expansion
The court said it had received more than 200 complaints against the plans mostly focusing on noise pollution and the planned clearing of nearby forests.
Frankfurt -- A German court on Friday approved a four-billion-euro expansion of Frankfurt International Airport, Europe's third busiest, rejecting complaints by residents.
The Hesse Administrative Court in the western city of Kassel said construction on a fourth runway, a third terminal and a larger cargo and maintenance centre could continue but upheld strict limits on night flights.
The court said it had received more than 200 complaints against the plans, of which it selected 13 as test cases. Most were based primarily on objections to noise pollution and the planned clearing of nearby forests.
But it said the projected economic benefit for the region around Germany's business and finance capital trumped such issues.
"The court ruled that no fundamental concerns stood in the way of the plan to expand Frankfurt Main Airport," it said.
"With the expansion, Frankfurt's role as a hub for international air traffic will be secured and strengthened."
The head of airport operator Fraport, Wilhelm Bender, said it was "a good day for the German air travel industry."
However several parties said they were planning to appeal to a federal tribunal.
The court also signalled approval of an existing upper limit of flights between 11:00 pm and 5:00 am to 17 and called for stricter regulation of flights between 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm and 5:00 am and 6:00 am.
Flag carrier Lufthansa had aimed to see the restrictions lifted and complained the number of flights approved by the court would "cut the airport off from global air cargo traffic."
Frankfurt International Airport is expected to serve 88.6 million passengers by 2020, up from 53.5 million last year, according to investor forecasts judged as realistic by the court.
It is third in terms of passenger traffic behind London's Heathrow and Paris's Charles de Gaulle airports.
In January, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government narrowly won a vote on plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, the world's largest international air hub.
The move has drawn fierce opposition from activists who say the expansion flies in the face of government commitments to tackle climate change.
A fifth terminal opened at the airport last year.
Aeroports de Paris, which manages the French capital's three airports, was partly privatized in 2006, but the French state remains the majority shareholder.
The company plans to pour 2.7 billion euros (3.9 billion dollars) into airport modernisation until 2010 and increase its capacity to accommodate an additional 20 million travellers.