Nearly 600 people participated in a protest march in Zaventem on Sunday against the expansion of Brussels Airport. The participants also demanded the abolition of night flights and a limitation on the number of flights annually.
According to the campaigners, the government should impose binding targets on noise pollution and emissions. In the meantime, Flanders is going to the Council of State against a federal Royal Decree regarding competencies at the airport.
Possible legal action
By mid-July 2024, Brussels Airport’s environmental license will expire after 20 years. The airport wants a new permit with an unlimited duration to authorize further expansion. It is the Flemish government that grants the permit.
This is a thorn in the side of residents who have been fighting the negative effects of the airport for years. They are also threatening legal action if the license is granted.
No night flights
Among others, Bond Beter Leefmilieu and about 20 associations want limits on the airport’s growth. “Brussels Airport wants to keep growing, with more cargo and passengers,” says Jasper Wouters of the environmental association.
“That means more nitrogen oxide and trucks on the road, and we find that unacceptable. More than 20 000 aircraft movements each year can be replaced by rail travel, and night flights can also take part during the day. That way, no jobs need to be lost,” says Jasper Wouters.
“We ask that Flemish minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) listens to our demands and that a new environmental permit prohibits night flights. Furthermore, we want flight movements capped annually and binding standards and targets for CO2 emissions.”
Sleep seriously disturbed
In April, the study firm ENV-ISA calculated that flight noise from Brussels Airport seriously disturbs the sleep of 109 000 residents and that some 50 000 people are at a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The health economic cost of noise pollution is more than 1 billion euros.
According to BBL, planes taking off from Brussels Airport emit more nitrogen oxides than all companies in the Port of Antwerp combined and more greenhouse gases than what is released when heating one million households.
Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) presented a draft ministerial decree to limit nuisance around Brussels Airport before the summer holidays. The most notable measure was a total ban on night flights between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The proposal provoked mixed reactions, from “essential for the health of residents” to “economic madness” and “a threat to 14 000 jobs”.
Fight for power
Meanwhile, the Flemish region went to the Council of State against a royal decree by the federal government concerning federal powers at Brussels Airport. The Flemish government thinks the national level exceeds its powers, but Gilkinet contradicts this.
The Royal Decree transposes a European obligation to explicitly indicate which authority can impose operating restrictions at European airports. The RD stipulates that the Federal Minister of Mobility is competent at Brussels Airport for everything under federal jurisdiction.
The federal government sought the advice of the regions when drafting the RD, as the matter also affects them in terms of the environment. The Flemish Region responded with a critical opinion, after which the RD was refined.
No Flanders is still going to the Council of State because the division of powers would have been violated. However, Gilkinet, who also wants independent control of noise pollution at Brussels Airport, contradicts this.
“The sole purpose of this RD is to enable the federal government to act against the noise pollution resulting from airport activity at Brussels Airport. It does not extend the powers of the federal state to regulate airport noise pollution but only enables us to exercise those powers correctly within the legal framework, Gilkinet says.
In mid-October, the Flemish government also invoked a conflict of interest against shifting flight routes to and from Brussels Airport. According to Flemish Periphery Minister Ben Weyts (N-VA), research by the Department of the Environment showed that the recent adjustments of the routes again shift more nuisance to Flanders.
Slow growth of aircraft movements
Reacting to the rally against the 2024 environmental permit, Brussels Airport also wants to become more sustainable. It also stressed that the re-license does not mean any infrastructure expansion or additional night flights.
“The airport does want to be able to grow with the economy,” it further states. According to Brussels Airport, the number of aircraft movements will grow slowly about the number of passengers as aircraft become larger and more environmentally friendly.
With differentiated rates worked out by Gilkinet, Brussels Airport encourages airlines to renew. “The oldest aircraft cost companies up to 20 times more than the newest ones,” spokesperson Ihsane Chioua Lekhli explains.
She also stresses the airport’s economic function, with 14 000 jobs depending (in)directly on night flights alone. “We specialize in pharma, in vaccines, which must be delivered quickly,” says Chioua Lekhli. “Banning those night flights would have a big socio-economic impact. International transport is essential for export activity for many companies, from West Flanders to Limburg.”
Finally, Brussel Airport refutes the BBL figures, which claim that the airport emits more nitrogen than all the companies in the Port of Antwerp combined. “That is manifestly incorrect. It is unclear what BBL bases its claim on. The figures we consulted in the Flemish Environment Agency’s database show the opposite.”