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Locals near Charleroi Airport want their say over new environmental permit

15:16 18/12/2023

Charleroi Airport should not be extended and no flights should land there after 23.00, campaigners have said.

These are two main messages from disenchanted residents living around the airport, called Brussels South even though it is situated some 60km from the capital.

These calls were to be made at a recent meeting to discuss the renewing of the airport’s environmental permit.

The last permit dates from 2003 when it was a different era. Only a few aeroplanes landed per day. Today there are between 18 and 25 flight movements per day, meaning that they leave from early in the morning until late at night.

The expansion of the fleet, but also of the airport, has had consequences for local residents.

“We must realise that the nuisance zone of airport noise pollution is the size of an area 10km by 60km,” said Luc Hidrynckx, local resident and head of the Facebook group ‘Stop Charleroi Airport problems’.

“And so, even living 15km away from the airport, I am woken up every morning by the planes flying over us. We also have the sound of landings. When the planes are late, that can last until 2.00 or 3.00 in the morning.”

Residents have complained about the impact on their health. “Imagine being woken up just about every half hour every night,” Hidrynckx said.

“You can imagine the impact on local residents’ physical and mental health. Studies show that there is a reduction in life expectancy due to hypertension and all its associated illnesses.”

The big ask for locals in permit discussions are for stricter noise pollution levels, in line with the new reality of life near the airport.

Wallonia’s airport minister Adrien Dolimont (MR) told RTBF that there would be no more runway extensions or increased time slots.

"At the airport, planes will only take off between 6.30 and 23.00," he said. "The four-engine aircraft, which are very noisy, will no longer be welcome in Charleroi. And, finally, we will not create new infrastructure to enable more aircraft to be based here.”

It has further been reported that the airport’s 2019 ‘Master Plan’ with its ‘XXL extension’ will not see the light of day. In addition, Ryanair is renewing its fleet with the lowest noise category Boeing 737s – but these are a long time in coming.

Meanwhile, the main fear for locals remains that planes will continue to land after 23.00.

For now, Charleroi is a daytime airport, not a night-time one, like Liège. Moreover, Hidrynckx said, many planes set off from abroad, even though they know that they will not arrive until Charleroi until after 23.00.

He said that a curfew, as imposed by other airports, should be instigated to stop planes landing out of hours.

Residents are also waiting to see if the government will follow the suggestions of the ‘airport policeman’ - Walloon airport noise polution control authority ACNAW - when compiling the new permit.

The ACNAW called for three major changes. The first is the establishment of a maximum noise standard, technically called "quota counts". This standard should not exceed 2,000 quota counts.

Each aircraft type is classified and awarded a quota count (QC) value depending on the amount of noise it generates under controlled certification conditions. The quieter the aircraft, the smaller the QC value. Aircraft are classified separately for landing and take-off.

The second recommendation is a simplified infraction notice for noise nuisance offenses and the third is the end to 'warnings' to airlines that disobey guidelines.

“The companies are now very aware of the rules, we must no longer issue warnings, but go directly to sanctions,” the ACNAW said.

People living around the airport are not too hopeful that these demands will be met. They say that only one parliament vote was sufficient, in the past, to enable planes one hour’s more time to set off in the morning and an extra hour to land at night, from the previous 7.00 to 22.00 limit.

Another fear is that the demand to extend the runway will also be granted.

“We, who live nearby Brussels South Charleroi Airport (BSCA), have participated in the economic development of our region for more than 25 years by abandoning a significant part of our tranquillity and our health,” said Bernard Page who lives at Ransart, near the runway.

"We deserve assurances that this development will be fairly supervised. This is not the case at this time, especially in our neighbourhood. We will ask the author of the impact study to list our problems honestly and to consider ways to resolve them."

Residents only have until 8 January to respond to the meeting’s conclusions and to the impact study’s conclusions. This is a short deadline, but the aim is that by July 2025, Charleroi airport will have a proper environmental permit in place.

Written by Liz Newmark