Opposing reactions to new permit for Brussels Airport

The granting of Brussels Airport Company’s new environmental permit is provoking opposed reactions. According to the citizen forum Burgerforum Luchthavenregio, the Flemish government has let down the residents of the surrounding municipalities around the airport. The Federal Ombudsman also feels that health and pollution have not been sufficiently considered.

The Flemish liberal political party Open Vld, in turn, is displeased with the conditions imposed on Brussels Airport by Flemish Minister of the Environment Zuhal Demir (N-VA) and fears a shrinking scenario. “How high is Flemish welfare still on the agenda of the N-VA?” sneered Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

‘Rumblings on the margins’

Flemish Minister Zuhal Demir approved the new licenses for the airport operator on Friday. The permit, among other things, limits the total number of annual flights from 2032 onward (to 240,000, or +13%) and gradually moves toward silent weekend nights.

For Henk Cuypers, chairman of Burgerforum Luchthavenregio, however, it is “rumblings on the margins”. “One small positive point is the restriction on the number of flights per year,” Cuypers says. “But apart from that, the permit gets a severe unsatisfactory mark: it is written to suit the airport operator and doesn’t consider scientific studies that identify the health effects on residents.”

According to Demir, abolishing night flights would too seriously damage the airport’s economic interests, but Cuypers contradicts this. “A study by Transport & Mobility recently showed that only 0.1 to 0.2% of the current number of jobs would disappear.”

No tightening of noise standards

Cuypers also denounces that noise standards remain the same during weekdays. “While in airports like Schiphol and Frankfurt, noise standards are tightening,” he says. The license also did not focus on emissions of other substances or air pollution.

“While aviation is one of the most polluting sectors,” says Cuypers, “the immense impact on the climate is swept under the carpet because Demir has fallen into the trap of the employers’ organizations of this world while citizens are being let down.”

The citizen forum will now consider whether to take any legal action against the permit and thus go to the Council for Permit Disputes.

Impact on health and environment

Federal Ombudsman Philippe Touwaide has also criticized the Minister’s decision. Touwaide is surprised that the Minister is not paying more attention to the health and pollution aspects of airport activity. “In 2024, we can no longer afford everything in the name of the economy,” he says.

For example, Touwaide points to the impact on health (ranging from sleep disturbances to stress) and the environment (e.g., air pollution and noise).

He also points out that Minister Demir talks about taking action on the types of aircraft allowed at Brussels Airport at night “while she also confuses noise standards on the ground (a regional competence) with individual aircraft noise levels (a federal competence)”. “Intervening on her permitted aircraft types depends solely on the federal government,” said Touwaide.

The ombudsman is, however, satisfied that an almost complete noise wall and a covered test train shed for testing reactors will come, decisions that were already taken in 1988 and 1989 but were never implemented.

‘Limit on the airport’s growth’

The Flemish liberal political party Open Vld, on the other hand, is displeased with Demir’s conditions at Brussels Airport and fears a shrinkage scenario, something Prime Minister Alexander De Croo also questions aloud.

“After the haggling with Ineos, the N-VA is again putting a crucial gateway to our economy in uncertainty,” De Croo told the business newspaper De Tijd. “It is vital that Zaventem airport can continue to grow, not only for the international connectivity of an export-oriented economy like Belgium but also for the expansion plans of Brussels Airlines. Thousands of jobs are at stake here. How high is Flemish welfare still on the N-VA’s agenda?”

De Croo mainly thinks the ceiling on flight movements limits the airport’s growth. “It makes much more sense to work with noise standards that force airlines to use low-noise aircraft.”

Brussels Airport said in a reaction, “An adjustment will be needed to continue growth beyond 2032. “In addition, the permit contains strict noise reduction targets. This could lead to a contraction in operations and have a severe impact on our country’s connectivity and the airport’s socio-economic role.”

Minister Demir says it is untrue that the ceiling on aircraft movements would curtail the airport’s growth. She calls that assertion “nonsense.” Today, the number of flight movements is still 50,000 flights below the proposed ceiling.

Demir also refers to federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), who last summer put a proposal on the government table that would ban night flights from Brussels Airport. “We will not go that far by a long shot,” said Demir.


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