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Belgium could pay millions to families affected by Zaventem airport noise pollution

Aicraft preparing to land at Brussels Airport in Zaventem (Belga)
11:13 11/05/2022

A new trial has begun in the Brussels courts over Brussels Airport noise pollution. Almost 400 families living in the communes of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Kraainem and Wezembeek-Oppem could stand to claim €40 million in compensation from the state.

A similar lawsuit from 2020 resulted in Belgium paying out €9.45 million in compensation to 93 families. They were found to be victims of excessive use of one of the runways at the Zaventem airport.

The court ruled that the state was at fault in including the runway in a plan to operate at night and at weekends, in particular because it did not make its decision on the basis of scientific studies.

The new plaintiffs hope to be compensated on a similar basis, which would potentially entitle them to €40 million in compensation.

“In all, 392 families, which are not the same as the first 93, have lodged the same appeal, on the same grounds,” explained Frédéric Petit (MR), mayor of Wezembeek-Oppem.

“The Belgian state will therefore probably have to compensate these families, which will cost four times as much as the first time.”

Airport mediator Philippe Touwaide told RTFB that this new lawsuit had a fair chance of succeeding. 

“Given that this action is modelled on a first action, which lasted more than 10 years but was ultimately successful, there is a possibility that these 400 local residents will win their case,” Touwaide said.

Belgian state yet to resolve noise pollution problem

An initial ruling required the Belgian state to correct the situation. But the state remains in default regarding the international wind standards which regulate the use of runways. 

As soon as there is a peak in wind strength at Zaventem, the airport switches to other runways. This results in runways other than the preferred ones being used too often.

Federal minister for mobility Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) said he is “well aware of the negative impact on all the people living in the vicinity of Zaventem airport who are in the flightpath of planes landing at or taking off from the airport.”

He said the case, which is at least 30 years old, is incredibly complex and burdened by legal disputes and a series of unresolved or imperfectly resolved conflicts. 

“Several judgements have been handed down, sometimes with divergent directions,” said Gilkinet.

Impact studies and consultation platform set up

“The federal government is obliged to comply and we are taking action to follow up on these court decisions, in particular by carrying out new impact studies and setting up a consultation platform bringing together all the stakeholders.”

Steps being taken include the commission of an impact study to independently assess the noise impact of flights on the population, setting up a consultation platform and setting up a technical group to find and test the best technical solutions. 

“The consultation platform, which must address the problem of nuisance in order to reconcile points of view as much as possible and bring out possible solutions, has already met three times since September,” Gilkinet said.

“All parties to this dossier, including the local residents' associations of the areas concerned, can express their views and suggestions in a spirit of mutual respect and listening.”

The results of the impact study on the noise impact of flights are expected this summer. 

Photo: © Belga/Eric Lalmand

 

Written by Helen Lyons