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Pressure mounts against proposed Brussels Airport night flight ban

15:10 22/07/2023

A proposal by Belgium’s mobility minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo) to ban all night flights at Brussels Airport from autumn 2024 will “put 14,000 jobs at risk”, the socialist transport union BTB has claimed.

This is the latest outcry against Gilkinet’s plan to fight noise pollution around the Zaventem hub. The union, which represents ground handling staff and logistics workers, said that a “rash ban” was not the answer to addressing legitimate concerns about noise and environmental impact.

The minister’s draft decree, presented on 14 July, includes a total ban on night flights between 23.00 and 6.00.

Gilkinet said that it would lead to a total 20% reduction of noise levels by, as well as imposing 100% silence at night, 30% more silence between 21.00 and 23.00, 20% more silence between 6.00 and 7.00 and 7% more silence between 7.00 and 21.00.

“Everyone has the right to silent nights. It is this quality of life that I am determined to protect,” Gilkinet said.

“This will be a significant gain in terms of quality of life and public health for more than 1.1 million Belgians in the three regions.”

The minister made clear that exceptions would be made for government transport, military, police and safety missions, emergencies or flights needed because of extreme weather conditions.

He hoped to see his plan implemented before winter 2024/2025, adding that noise pollution laws at Brussels Airport had not been revised since 2009.

Gilkinet’s plan was welcomed by six neighbourhood associations and environmental groups, who sent a letter to the federal government last week claiming night flights led to serious health problems for people living and working near the airport. “These individuals suffer from insomnia, stress and depression,” they said.

The Flemish Association for a Better Environment (BBL) was delighted, speaking of “a milestone for the health of local residents,” and “a beautiful first step towards a sustainable and future-oriented management of the national airport”.

The Tervuren Committee also welcomed the development but said that the timing, at only one year before the elections, was not ideal and that more discussion with all the organisations concerned before the plan was announced would have been welcome.

While Gilkinet said the proposal would guarantee “economically sustainable operation at the airport”, and that such measures had been implemented at Amsterdam-Schiphol, Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt airports with no economic downturn, Brussels Airport said this was far from the truth.

The company criticised the lack of consultation or coordination with the aviation sector over what it called “extreme measures” which it said also did not respect European laws.

Brussels Airlines chief executive Dorothea von Boxberg said the mobility minister’s plan was "unacceptable from an aviation point of view".

"The airport is an engine of prosperity: it creates a lot of jobs, provides many connections and brings people who want to work here," she said. "We must also take this into account."

While accepting the concerns of local residents, who have long campaigned against night flights, she argued: "It would certainly be a reasonable and achievable goal to say there should be a reduction in noise year after year."

But she added that Gilkinet’s “all or nothing” approach made this aim difficult.

To help deal with noise, airlines were investing in quieter and more fuel-efficient aircraft and Brussels Airlines would be receiving five brand new Airbus A320Neos by the end of 2024, she added.

Meanwhile, anger continues in political parties and business circles at the proposal, which is expected to be presented to parliament soon.

The main argument is that Brussels will suffer economically, that Brussels Airport will no longer able to play a crucial role as a transport hub and that there would be thousands of job losses.

The Flemish network of businesses Voka called the plan a “crazy idea that should be immediately binned”.

Political parties including the Flemish Open VLD condemned the ban as “playing with our prosperity”. The party’s Tim Vandenput, also the mayor of Hoeilaart, said that with “this complete Green madness… for every two planes that don’t land here, we will lose one full-time job”.

The CD&V party also slammed Gilkinet’s bid for silent nights and his aim to solve what he sees as “one of the most complicated issues in Belgian politics”.

For CD&V president Sammy Madhi, “it will be the end of Zaventem as the logistical centre of Europe for medical and pharmaceutical products. But these 25,000 jobs are apparently not important for the Greens”.

Written by Liz Newmark