High Health Council wants ban on night flights at Brussels Airport

The Belgian High Health Council is calling for a ban on night flights at Brussels Airport. This is the advisory body’s first recommendation of such a measure. According to the Council, at least 160,000 people living nearby are at increased risk of negative health effects, such as disturbed sleep, reduced lung function, and changes in heart rhythm.

“We hope that something can be done with the report and that measures will be taken to limit the nuisance,” says Greet Schoeters (UAntwerp), an environmental toxicologist and co-chair of the High Health Council’s working group on the airport.

More and more scientific evidence

In late March, Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) approved the new environmental permit for airport operator Brussels Airport Company for an indefinite period, excluding a complete ban on night flights. After analyzing existing studies on the health effects of noise and air pollution from aircraft, the High Health Council now wants to abolish night flights.

“Every year, scientific evidence of the harmful effects of noise grows,” the council writes. “Noise leads to feelings of irritation and sleep problems. Research also shows that it is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, delayed learning with school children, and a negative impact on mental well-being, increasing the risk of depression.”

“Several studies show that in the short term, ultrafine dust emissions, characteristic of aircraft, lead mainly to reduced lung function and changes in heart rhythm,” the council states, although it stresses that better monitoring of the different types of substances entities is needed. In the long term, there is a link with more cardiovascular diseases, but also, for example, with negative birth outcomes such as lower birth weight.”

No increase in the number of flights

To counter all the negative health effects, the High Health Council advocated banning flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., and not until, say, only 6 a.m. This is because there are relatively more flights between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., while the impact on people’s sleep at that time is just greater because people do not sleep as deeply at that time.

The quiet weekend nights registered by the minister in the license, to be introduced in 2026, are not enough in this respect either, the researchers say.

The council also suggests developing additional noise indicators that consider how often aircraft fly over and how loud they are at each overflight rather than looking at average noise levels. However, Brussels Airport’s noise impact would drop by 12% in 2032. The council also wants to see the concentration of flights in the early morning and evening scaled back.

“In general, an increase in the number of flights and their frequency is not desirable,” the council also advises – something Demir does allow in the license she has granted; 240,000 flight movements by 2032, up from over 192,000 last year.

More generally, the council calls for a reflection on “essential air traffic”: “We need to think about how aviation activities can be made more sustainable so that we strike a better balance between what is needed in terms of transport and livability for residents,” the researchers argue.

Ministers also call for a ban

“There is no future for an airport in this densely populated region, which only thrives in significant night-time activity,” responds Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit), who favors a “gradual, realistic but systematic phase-out of night flights”, with flights with the noisiest aircraft being stopped first. “At night, you have to let people sleep,” the Minister added.

Vandenbroucke, who commissioned the study together with Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), further points out that a broad socio-economic consultation is needed on airport activity. “This night-time activity is also linked to employment, often for short-skilled people for whom jobs are not up for grabs. Work and health need to be balanced. Achieving this balance will be a crucial task for the next federal and Flemish governments.”

“The Council’s recommendations align with the measures I presented to the federal government a year ago,” says Gilkinet. The minister calls on stakeholders to support his proposals, including banning night flights and revising the ‘quota counts’, which determine the noise level of aircraft because “Brussels must not become the noise dustbin of Europe”.

Brussels Environment Minister Alain Maron (Ecolo) has already indicated he wants to launch a conflict of interest against the environmental permit Demir delivered.

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