Brussels Airport back to profit and plans to slash 1.500 night flights

Brussels Airport Company, the operator of Zaventem airport, posted a net profit of 16 million euros last year. It is the first time in three years that it’s back in the black. “The profit in 2022 was still limited, but it does shed light at the end of the tunnel,” said airport chief Arnaud Feist.

Indeed, the profit came after two dark-red years, during which the airport operator suffered a loss of roughly 240 million euros due to the impact of the corona crisis.

€549 million turnover

The corona pandemic was still being felt in the first part of 2022, but recovery followed in July, returning to more normal operations. The airport counted 18,9 million passengers, twice the number of 2021, but still more than a quarter below its record from 2019.

And it handled 776 000 tons of cargo, 8% less than in the record year 2021 when cargo operations benefited from corona vaccine shipments and the boom in e-commerce during lockdowns.

As such, turnover reached 549 million euros, almost three quarters more than in 2021. Both operating profit (72 million euros) and net profit (16 million euros) turned positive again after two years.

Higher operating costs

On the other hand, Brussels Airport faces higher operating costs. These rose to 478 million euros, 30% more than in 2021 and above the 2019 level. This was mainly due to soaring energy prices, which nearly tripled compared to the period before corona. Higher inflation and related wage indexation also had an impact.

For the fourth year in a row, no dividend will be paid to shareholders. “It was decided that we want to keep the financial resources in the company until we are out of the crisis,” Feist says. The federal government has a 25% stake in the airport operator, with the rest belonging to private funds.

The stalemate surrounding the appointment of a new chairman also continues. The chairman’s seat at the airport company has been vacant for almost two years. According to the business newspaper De Tijd, the reason is that the private shareholders and the Belgian state don’t find a consensus. Both Wouter Gabriëls (supported by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo) and former Nuon boss Roberto Kesteman (supported by the other shareholders) are still in the running.

Expansion plans on hold

According to Feist, Brussels Airport is also abandoning expansion plans, for the time being. Plans for a new pier and a longer runway have been put on hold. But the ambition of the airport operator hasn’t been grounded.

More than 32 million passengers are expected by 2032, up from 26,4 million in the record year 2019. Cargo volume is expected to double to one million tons over that period.

As for the number of aircraft movements, an increase of 2,4% to 240 000 movements is expected by 2032. Increasingly larger aircraft are being used, while the percentage of operating routes is also growing. For example, in 2000, there were an average of 77 passengers on a flight, now there are 135, and by 2032 this should rise to 155.

From Zaventem, 70 airlines fly to 200 destinations.

Stricter on night flights

By 8 July, Brussels Airport must apply for a new environmental permit, this time of unlimited duration, granted by the Flemish government. Feist makes it clear that Brussels Airport Company aims to eliminate some 1 500 night flights a year. The legal ceiling on the number of night slots, which is 16 000 per year, remains untouched.

However, the airport operator wants to take stricter action against flights that do not have a night slot but nevertheless take off or land at Brussels Airport during the night, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Specifically, take-offs after 11 p.m. without a night lock would be banned. Flights landing at Brussels Airport during the night without a night lock would be fined. Feist calls the proposal “a strong signal to local residents that we are taking their complaints into account.”

The airport operator recently filed its proposal to Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo). It is the Directorate-General of Aviation (DGLV) that can introduce such a measure. The minister said in early April that he wants to put a solution to noise pollution around Zaventem airport on the table before the summer recess. This reaches further than just the night flights.

70% less CO2 emissions

Last but not least, Brussels Airport wants to disconnect the terminal from gas energy, possibly replacing it with heat pumps. The renewal of the central heating system, which should be operational by 2027, is an important part of Brussels Airport Company’s ambition to get its CO2 emissions to zero by 2050.

Thanks to this gas-free installation, the airport will reduce its CO2 emissions by around 70%. “An investment that immediately represents a Belgian first, as such an installation – a total capacity of 21 megawatts – has never before been developed in Belgium,” concludes Feist.


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