Of all flight movements recorded at Deurne Airport, near Antwerp, in 2022, 72% were domestic flights. This is according to figures requested by Groen in the Flemish parliament. The airport itself points to the many pilot training sessions in Deurne as an explanation.
Groen denounces the total of 30 000 domestic flight movements in Deurne. “It is completely irrational that the Flemish government is pumping millions of euros of taxpayers’ money into a loss-making superfluous airport for air travel within its borders,” the political party says.
Hub for domestic flights
“The Flemish government is letting our tax money fly through the air,” Groen says of the fact that for domestic flights, Deurne Airport is usually both the departure and destination point or that sometimes it is used to fly to or from another Belgian airport while Belgium is a handkerchief size.
“Deurne is not only loss-making but also a hub for domestic flights and not for transport flights. It is insane that you would fly a plane from Antwerp to Brussels or fly a round trip over Antwerp for fun.”
Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), national co-chair Nadia Naji, and Antwerp chairman, Bogdan Vanden Berghe, both from Groen, are calling for a ban on domestic flights.
According to Deurne Airport, training flights are not a waste at all. “Our pilot training courses also conform to the Flemish government’s vision note,” the airport states.
“We provide the pilots of the future. There are half a dozen pilot schools in Antwerp, and we have the necessary equipment, such as navigation systems and simulators, to train them.” Moreover, the practice flights are without passengers and are not done with the big, polluting jets but with propellers that consume less.
As Groen suggests, aviation economist Wouter Dewulf says it is not a bad idea to organize training elsewhere. “There are options in Ursel, Brasschaat, Leopoldsburg, or Sint-Truiden, although there are costs involved,” says Dewulf, while trying courses are also organized in Ostend and Charleroi.
“We have been advocating more cooperation between airports for some time,” the aviation economist adds. “But of course, a pilot has to learn to land at an international airport like Deurne with a guarded tower and a landing system where you can land blind.”
Different use of Deurne Airport
Deurne Airport points to many other types of domestic flights, although drones could also take over some of those flights. For instance, the inspection flights that check whether all the lights on the landing runway are working and flights over the port of Antwerp to inspect gas pipelines, for example.
But some people own their aircraft. And finally, there are the so-called positioning flights, where an aircraft must go for maintenance or to pick someone up like a taxi.
According to Groen, the figures cannot be ignored and are an additional argument for turning off the subsidy tap for the Deurne Airport. “If we want to tackle the climate crisis, it is necessary to reduce CO2 emissions,” the party argues.
Vanden Berghe further argues for a different use of Deurne Airport. “A closure of the airport could generate up to almost 40 million euros. With that money, we could give the airport a new destination that all Antwerp residents would enjoy instead of serving mainly as a private airport for a few, as it does now.”
At the end of last year, the Flemish government decided to keep the regional airports, including the Ostend-Bruges and Antwerp airports operated by the Flemish Region and the French aviation player Egis, open with a “long-term vision” looking to 2040.
The airports depend on public money, some 200 million euros a year, although Egis pays an annual concession of 254 000 euros to the Flemish region.
Besides Flemish subsidies, the airports of Ostend-Bruges and Antwerp receive around 9 million euros in federal aid every year. For Deurne Airport, this means that for every euro of turnover, there are three euros in government aid.
Several legal cases
At the same time, several legal cases are currently pending against the Deurne Airport for alleged violations. Several organizations accuse Deurne Airport of illegally using a safety zone in agricultural land as a part of the airport.
Next year, all regional Flemish airports must have a new environmental license. Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir, an N-VA party colleague of the mayor and Deurne Airport fan Bart De Wever will decide.
In May, Deurne or Antwerp Airport celebrated its centenary. The airport now has about 300 000 passengers annually, which should increase fivefold by 2040. Most passenger flights are to London or summer destinations from the offer of airline TUI fly, such as Ibiza, Tenerife, Mallorca, Malaga, Antalya, Heraklion, or Tangier.