Brussels Airport to reopen for passenger flights on Sunday

Airport has built temporary check-in zone after departure hall destroyed in blasts

Belgian police make a series of arrests after anti-racist protesters clash with youths in the district of Molenbeek in Brussels. Video: Reuters

 

Brussels Airport will partially reopen for passenger flights on Sunday, 12 days after its departure hall was destroyed by suicide bombers.

The country’s main airport has not handled passenger flights since two suspected Islamist militants carried out the suicide attacks. Those bombs and a separate one on a metro train in the city killed 35 people, including the bombers. “As of tomorrow, Sunday, Brussels Airport should be partially operational,” the airport’s chief executive Arnaud Feist told a news conference.

The airport, whose departure hall was destroyed in the blasts, has built a temporary check-in zone, conducted tests and had declared itself ready to restart flights. However, airport police threatened to strike over what they saw as lax security measures. The deadlock was only broken after talks between police union leaders and the government on Friday evening.

The federal police, whose officers work in the airport, wanted passengers to be checked outside the new departure zone. But the airport authorities had said this would mean passengers waiting too long and simply shift the security threat from inside to outside the area.

Belgium’s national security council, a grouping of senior ministers, police and intelligence chiefs, earlier acknowledged it could simply force police to work at the airport, but that it would be unwise to do so.

“It’s important to find the right balance between economic interests and security interests,” defence minister Steven Vandeput told Belgian television.

Brussels Airlines, Belgium’s largest carrier and 45 per cent owned by Lufthansa, has estimated the closure of its Brussels hub is costing it €5 million per day.

The city’s association of hotel operators pointed to the closed airport as one of the main reasons for a more than 50 per cent drop in overnight stays up to March 28th.

“The outlook is bad but it depends on the complete reopening of the airport,” a spokesman for the Brussels Hotel Association said.

Brussels Airport is one of the largest airports in Europe, handling 23.5 million passengers and 489,000 tonnes of freight annually. It links the Belgian capital with 226 destinations worldwide through 77 different airlines.