Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Belgian airport to resume flights

  • Brussels Airlines, which has been losing up to €5mn a day, warned that the first flights might be empty (Photo: Reuters)

Belgium’s national airport plans to resume its first flights on Thursday (31 March) since the 22 March attacks, but its CEO has warned that it will take “months” to get back to normal operations.

Arnaud Feist, the airport director, told Belgian media in a series of interviews published on Wednesday that it would reopen with a capacity of 800 to 1,000 passengers per hour instead of the usual 5,000 per hour.

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  • Metro system running at just over half of capacity one week after the attacks (Photo: Eric Maurice)

He said preferential treatment would be given to flights inside the EU’s Schengen passport-free zone and to Africa, with Brussels Airlines, the national carrier, to take up most of the initial availability.

He noted that the airport had installed a temporary structure, using prefabricated units, to cover up the damage.

He said luggage would have to be transported from the departures hall by hand for the time being and that it was still unclear if the car parks, where up to 700 vehicles remain stranded after last week’s attacks, would reopen.

“Although the structure of the [departures] building is intact, it will all have to be rebuilt, from the air conditioning to the check-in desks,” he said.

“We must be sure that it is technically running well and that everything can proceed safely for both passengers and staff. Only if the government gives the green light, we start [operations].

"Afterwards, we go step by step, as parts of the damaged terminal can be returned to service, increasing our capacity. But that will be a process of months.”

He said Belgian firms had showed “huge solidarity”, with one offering to replace damaged windows for free and with another offering free food to airport staff.

Feist added that in the long term the airport wouldn’t suffer loss of business.

“I have not heard any airline that does not want to come here [any more],” he said.

Bernard Gustin, the head of Brussels Airlines, said in a separate interview with Belgian daily L’Echo that his company had lost €5 million a day since the airport closed.

He said the first flights might be empty but would have “symbolic” value and that he expected the planes to fill up quickly.

Belgian authorities said on Tuesday that 32 people had died in the attacks, when two suicide bombers detonated explosives at the airport and a third man blew himself up in a metro station in the city’s EU district.

It had earlier said the death toll was 35, but then revised its figures. It said 96 people were still in hospital, about a third of whom were being treated for burns injuries.

At least 16 out of the 32 deceased were Belgian nationals. The three suicide attackers are not being counted among the victims.

A third target may have been the Belgian PM’s office, on the Rue de la Loi near to the US embassy to the EU, Belgian police said, referring to data found in a computer which had been abandoned by one of the attackers.

The Brussels metro system is also running at below full capacity, with trains operating between 7AM and 7PM and stopping at 39 out of the system’s 69 stations only.

The performance of Belgium’s security services and EU security cooperation more broadly have come under scrutiny since the attacks.

In the latest twist, Belgian authorities on Tuesday released a terrorist suspect, named in Belgian media as Faycal Cheffou, for lack of evidence.

Dutch authorities also confirmed that the US law enforcement agency, the FBI, had warned them that Belgian authorities were seeking the arrest of Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Khalid El Bakraoui - two brothers who carried out suicide attacks in Brussels - less than one week prior to the blast.

Turkey had deported Ibrahim El Bakraoui to The Netherlands last July amid warnings that he might constitute a terrorist threat. But Dutch airport authorities let him go because he wasn’t on an official blacklist.

Koen Geens, Belgium’s justice minister, who last week offered his resignation, defended police and intelligence services in a Belgian parliament debate on Tuesday.

He said: “Stop repeating that we were guility of gross failures. It’s out of place given what we managed to deliver.”

He also urged Belgium’s regions to stop infighting after Yvan Mayeur, the left-wing and French-speaking mayor of Brussels, accused the interior minister, Jan Jambon, a Flemish nationalist, of not doing enough to stop Flemish skinheads from disrupting a memorial service in Brussels at the weekend.

“It is not the image of Brussels that has been tainted by Sunday’s events ... it is Flanders that has come to taint Brussels with its extremists,” Mayeur said.

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Belgium is no failed state, says PM

In a press conference designed to restore his country's image two weeks after the attacks, Charles Michel said that security is efficient and that Brussels is a welcoming place.

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