Brussels airport tense in the face of government decision on environmental permits




  • Brussels Zaventem Airport is facing a decision to renew its environmental permit amid rising tensions over night flights and noise pollution.
  • The Flemish government is proposing restrictions on aircraft movement and night flights, which would affect airlines such as Brussels Airlines and DHL.
  • Banning night flights will impact cargo operations and weaken air connectivity, so alternative noise mitigation measures should be considered.

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The debate over the ban on night flights at Brussels Zaventem Airport has resurfaced. This particular theme has continued since his 2000s, when DHL’s cargo business was evolving and plans were being finalized to establish the company’s European air cargo hub in Brussels. This failure foreshadows the tension at the table today. A decision will be taken on Friday, March 29, to renew the airport’s environmental permit, without which it will be forced to close.

Brussels Zaventem is the country’s largest airport.That slogan is “The heart of Europe” Reference to its importance in the context of the European Union. Brussels is home to many European institutions and headquarters, including parliaments, councils, and commissions. However, Belgium is a complex country. It is divided into three regions: Brussels-Capital, Wallonia (French-speaking) and Flanders (Dutch-speaking). Interestingly, Brussels Zaventem Airport is not located in the Brussels-Capital region, but in the Flemish region.

Brussels Charleroi Airport is Belgium’s second largest airport in terms of passenger numbers and is located in the Wallonia region.

Today’s tension

According to Belgian media outlet De Stendhal, the current environmental permit was issued by the Flemish government in 2004 and is currently being renewed ahead of its expiry date on July 8 this year. This sparked a full-scale outcry, and Environment Minister (Flemish) Zuhar Demir oversaw general movement of aircraft and restrictions on night flights. Prime Minister Demir told parliament earlier this week: “A right and balanced decision” It was necessary to address topics that ensured that. “Balance between prosperity and quality of life” A decision is expected to be made no later than this Friday, March 29, 2024.


The Brussels Times reported that the government of the Brussels-Capital region was also involved, calling on the Flemish government to better protect people living in the capital from the effects of noise pollution.

Some residents of the Flemish region around Brussels Airport are also fed up with the noise levels associated with aircraft movement, especially at night. For example, the Wesenbeek Oppem association against aviation silence and violations of safety has protested his use of two of Brussels Airport’s runways. “This has a serious impact on the calm and quality of life of the residents of Wesenbeek Oppem.” Similar protests with very similar demands have been seen in other surrounding regions, and are of serious concern to the Flemish government.


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Flemish proposal

Initially, the most significant concern seemed to be nitrogen levels at the airport. But that’s no longer an issue as nitrogen emissions are through the roof. However, the Regional Environmental Permits Committee (GOVC) highlighted overall flight movement and night flight issues. The government wants to introduce standards on the amount of air travel allowed, which will reach 234,000 by 2030. However, data from Brussels Airport shows that air travel is expected to reach 240,000 by 2032. The current number of trips reaches 192,000 per year (as of 2023).

DHL Airbus A300 at night.

GOVC also proposes amendments to the conditions surrounding night flights. The current flight limit of 16,000 flights is likely to remain, but several conditions will be introduced in the coming years. The proposal states that by 2028, all aircraft flying between 23:00 and 07:00 must meet a noise threshold of 60 decibels. From 2030 onwards, this condition will be extended from 23:00 to 19:00. DeMille said this was an amendment proposed after consultation with the health department, which noted that the aircraft disrupted the sleep of affected residents.

Brussels Airport is an important economic asset

Ahead of next week’s decision, Brussels Airport highlighted its benefits to the Belgian economy through recent research published by the Universities of Antwerp and Leuven. According to 2019 figures, the airport supports 64,000 indirect and direct jobs and accounts for approximately 1.85% of Belgium’s total GDP. Brussels Airport claims to be a vital artery for the country’s economy. Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport, said:

“Research from the Universities of Antwerp and Leuven shows that Brussels Airport remains the second most important economic engine in the country, with 29,500 jobs on the airport premises and 64,000 jobs created in the country thanks to airport activities. It has been confirmed that there is.”

On the subject of banning night flights pending further decisions, the CEO said that reducing night flights would cause damage to airports. “Ecosystem”:

“Airport is not a Lego game where you can remove some blocks.”

Brussels Airlines and DHL concerns

Brussels Airlines and DHL are currently the most affected by potential amendments to environmental permits.

Around 05:00, Brussels Airlines flights from certain destinations in Africa return to the Belgian capital. According to data as of the morning of March 25, 2024, this includes Airbus A330 flights from Yaounde, Dakar, Monrovia and Ouagadougou. Additional flights will arrive around 07:00, including those from Kinshasa and Entebbe. These early arrivals facilitate connections and are crucial to Brussels Airlines’ hub-and-spoke model.

Brussels Airlines Airbus A330 lands in Brussels.

DHL also offers early morning freight services from Brussels to several destinations. As a cargo airline, DHL uses fairly old aircraft, which inevitably makes them noisier. This includes the Boeing 757-200, Airbus A300, and Boeing 737. We also offer flights on our Airbus A330 to Leipzig, for example.

Simple Flying spoke to Professor Wouter DeWolf, one of the researchers on the project team for the report on the economic impact of Brussels Airport. Professor DeWolf commented on the impact of the night flight ban on both airlines:

There are currently 16,000 night flights, of which around 9,000 are used by DHL and the rest are used for early morning arrivals on Brussels Airlines’ Africa flights and late night arrivals on some leisure airlines. It is not a good idea to reduce DHL’s night flights. DHL’s business model could be in jeopardy, and if it becomes impossible to operate as a European sub-hub, DHL could be significantly slimmed down or even withdrawn from the country as before .

He also noted the importance of cargo for Brussels Airport itself. Further restrictions on night flights would reduce the attractiveness of the airport and make it less attractive for long-haul passenger operations. These comments were echoed by Freek de Witte, director of Air Cargo Belgium, which represents stakeholders in the air cargo community at Brussels Airport. He said:

“It’s not completely game over.” [for cargo flights]. However, certain services, such as express delivery and transport of medicines, are at risk of disappearing. ”

According to the Brussels Times, DHL Express has asked the research firm Indivil to conduct an independent survey on public opinion on a total ban on night flights. The study used data from people living in Flanders-Brabant and the Brussels-Capital Region. “There is absolutely no support.” For such a ban. About 25% support the ban, while 47% oppose it (the rest took no position).


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Residents face constant noise pollution from landings on Runway 01.

long distance essentials

Pure cargo flights operated by cargo ships often cannot reach distant locations where demand is low. Instead of operating empty planes, cargo airlines can coordinate with commercial passenger airlines to transport some of their cargo. This is the case at Brussels Airport, Professor De Wolfe said:

Additionally, DHL cargo is an important profit contributor for some long-haul passenger flights. Without cargo, it would be difficult to attract passenger flights to Singapore, Tokyo and some North American destinations.

Airbus A330 at the gate of Brussels Airport

Photo: Roib | Shutterstock

In July last year, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mobility Georges Gillikine proposed a complete ban on night flights between 11pm and 6pm from October 2024. Alarmed by this, the International Air Transport Association issued a statement highlighting its concerns about air transport. measurement:

“Furthermore, a night flight ban at Brussels Zaventem Airport will have a negative impact on the Belgian economy and air connectivity. Many of the flights affected by the night curfew are cargo flights. With particular strength in pharmaceutical exports that rely on fast-moving air transport, Zaventem is a world-class leader. In terms of air connectivity, the airport hosts a modest but significant number of night flight connections. Among the routes threatened by the ban are connections to Africa, one of the world’s fastest-growing economic regions.

Is there another solution?

Some have suggested a less immediate approach, focusing on other measures that could help reduce noise emissions rather than putting cargo flights at risk. Professor DeWolf commented:

“Brussels Airport has around 600,000 tonnes of cargo and is a major export facilitator for many Belgian pharmaceutical companies. Brussels Airport ranks only 26th in European passenger traffic and remains an import cargo hub. A strong integrator with DHL as the backbone is not a good idea. The conditions of the environmental permit may be to push DHL to accelerate fleet renewal by 2032, for example. It is better to focus on reducing noise levels by ordering and giving the current fleet time to phase out older B777 and 757 models. Airbus A350F and other A320Fs will soon be on the market. It is scheduled to be introduced.”

DHL is interested in the Airbus A350F and Boeing 777-8F, according to senior vice president Malcolm McBeth at the Cargo Facts Symposium in San Diego late last year. Macbeth said he intended to make a deal with one of them. “It’s not that far.” future. DeWolf continued:

Governments also need to distinguish between takeoff and landing. Takeoff and landing, in addition to some operational requirements (CDO and steeper approach angles), will have significantly reduced noise impacts.

It remains to be seen what the outcome of the decision will be, as Environment Minister Demir, while acknowledging the tense nature of the debate, has taken an ambiguous and cautious stance.

Do you live near an airport and have trouble flying at night? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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