Brussels Airport’s noise impact to drop by 12% in 2032 despite growth

By 2032, Brussels Airport’s noise impact would drop by 12% despite growth in passengers and cargo volumes. That’s according to the environmental impact report (MER) accompanying the new Brussels Airport environmental permit application.

More modern aircraft making less noise and quieter landing techniques would decrease the nuisance. By the end of March, the Flemish government must now decide whether to grant the new environmental permit for Brussels Airport, which expires in July 2024.

10 million more passengers

The scenario in the MER assumes 32 million passengers and 1 million tons of cargo flown in 2032, compared to a good 22 million passengers this year and 775 00 tons of freight (figures from 2022), with the same number of aircraft movements and night flights as before the corona health crisis.

Even with the expected population growth around the airport, that future scenario would see a 12% reduction in nuisance. That should be possible thanks to the most modern noise-efficient aircraft. They would operate 63% of flights, up from 31% today. Moreover, they would also use modern, quieter landing techniques, resulting in less CO2 emissions.

Furthermore, Brussels Airport also wants to deploy additional noise barriers. Two additional zones have been designated, and a feasibility study will be launched in 2024. A new test track location with noise barriers should also be operational by 2027.

‘Within the norms of the nitrogen decree’

Regarding air quality and emissions, the MER predicts that the expected growth will have “a slight impact” for certain pollutants, but it would remain below applicable air quality standards.

CO2 emissions from aircraft operations would also decrease due to continued fleet renewal and the use of biofuels. By 2026, 5% of jet fuel at the airport should be Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF).

However, the MER does confirm that the airport contributes to nitrogen deposition in nearby natural areas, such as the 65-hectare Floordam forest in Steenokkerzeel. According to Brussels Airport, nitrogen emissions from airport activities in Flanders remain within the limit provided for in the new nitrogen agreement and do not impede the achievement of Flemish nitrogen targets.

The MER experts advise the airport operator to enter consultation with the protected Natura 2000 areas in the vicinity to investigate measures.

Public inquiry

Brussels Airport Company’s current environmental permit to operate the airport expires in July 2024. An application has now been submitted to the Flemish government to renew the license for an unlimited period. Part of the procedure is a public inquiry, which has been launched.

At any rate, the Brussels Region will issue an opinion in consultation with the 19 Brussels municipalities in the public inquiry into the renewal of Brussels Airport’s environmental permit.

Still, Environment Minister Alain Maron (Ecolo) wants to give Brussels residents a voice. He has given Brussels Environment the task of informing the inhabitants of Brussels on how to do so so that the Flemish government can take it into account.

Discussion on night flights

Noise pollution around Brussels Airport has for years led to a clash between the Flemish and Brussels governments, Walloon politicians, and the federal government, where Ecolo minister Georges Gilkinet is in charge of the airport.

As recently as July, Gilkinet announced his intention to introduce a de facto ban on night flights to and from Brussels Airport. According to the Brussels Airport operator, there are currently no issues, such as a new runway or pier, nor are additional night flights being pursued.

A new study by environmental umbrella organization Bond Beter Leefmilieu shows that no jobs would be lost at the airport during a night ban – the airport directly and indirectly creates nearly 70 000 jobs. Such a ban would even generate 400 million euros in health benefits.

100 000 people disturbed while sleeping

BBL has long advocated an end to night flights and a total limit of 220 000 flights per year, or 6% less than before the coronavirus pandemic. According to the study, the average price of plane tickets would increase by 5 euros because of the measures.

This contrasts with the public health and environment of residents. According to BBL, over 100 000 people are seriously disturbed in their sleep, and 50 000 are at a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease due to night flights at Brussels Airport.

BBL will file an objection anyway.

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