Noise pollution around Brussels Airport is affecting 220,000 people, according to a study by the Flemish Federation for a Better Environment (Bond Beter Leefmilieu). On Monday April 3rd, the Federation told Belgian news outlet Le Soir that the noise pollution may generate a heavy bill for social security.
The study, commissioned to the French consultant ENV-ISA, sought to calculate the number of people affected, actually and potentially, by aircraft noise around the airport. The exercise also takes care not to communalize the nuisances on either side of linguistic or communal borders.
The conclusions of the study estimate that 220,000 local residents are “strongly inconvenienced” by the noise, 109,000 have their sleep seriously disturbed, 51,000 are exposed to an increased risk of hypertension and 2,000 are strongly at risk of developing ischemic heart disease (heart attack, angina pectoris, etc.). Each night flight could have an impact of roughly 36,000 euros in health damage, according to Belga news agency.
These risks are statistically translated into costs for the Belgian public health system of more than one billion euros, or 36,000 euros per night flight. The study comes in the context of the renewal procedure of the environmental permit of Brussels National Airport. The Federation insists that noise and its effects on local residents are not sufficiently taken into account in the permits.
In late February of this year, Brussels Airport presented its neighboring municipalities with a document outlying its plans to expand from 26 to 32 million annual passengers by 2032 and double the number of cargo transports. These plans were called “unrealistic” and relying on “incomplete figures”, according to Belga news agency.
The airport is located in the Flemish municipality of Zaventem, but is under the authority of the Federal Government. For years, the local governments of Flanders and the Brussels Capital Region have been arguing with the airport over noise pollution. On Thursday, the municipalities of Machelen, Grimbergen, Meise and Wemmel and the city of Vilvoorde, all located in the Flemish Brabant province that surrounds the Brussels Capital Region, questioned the airport’s proposed plan for expansion.
While recognizing the economic importance of the airport, local authorities raised concerns over how side effects from the increased traffic were not presented in the 700-page document. Moreover, they questioned the viability of the environmental impact report (EIA), which fails to present clear forecasts and is based on “incomplete figures”.
The municipalities also find it hard to believe that, at the same time the airport plans to expand, it claims that current schedules, during the day and at night, as well as flight paths will remain unchanged. They call attention to the disproportionate effect the airport has on Brussels residents, with those in the north suffering much more than the rest. “If the airport is of general interest, the nuisance it causes should be borne by as many shoulders as possible”, they said.
In a January 2023 press release, it was confirmed that polluting planes would have to pay up to 20 times more at Brussels Airport. Planes departing from Brussels Airport pay fees to Belgian air traffic body Skeyes. Noisier planes have already been paying up to three times more than their quieter counterparts since 2016, but these levies did not apply to smaller planes and private jets.
Going forward planes will be categorized into eight bands, with the loudest liable to charges up to 20 times more than those applied to the most modern, least polluting craft. In addition, in a new move, NOx measures, which calculate nitrogen oxide emissions, will also be taken into account. Brussels Airport credits its charges over the last five years with helping to bring about a two thirds reduction in noise polluting flights, from 16% in 2016, to 5% in 2022. Today almost 1 in 3 flights use the most modern planes.
The fees, which are subject to Belgium’s 11% indexation for inflation, are fixed for a five-year period after consultation with the airlines and are overseen by an independent economic regulator. Set for the period from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2028, the new tariffs are intended to further incentivize carriers to update their fleet to the latest, least polluting craft.
Belgium has been considering ways to improve its tax base through aviation for some time, although unilateral steps such as 6% VAT on plane tickets were thought to bring undesirable effects on competitivity.