A row that has been rumbling on between Brussels Airport, Belgian federal ministers and Flanders region over noise pollution around the aviation hub is making the news again.
New airport system, old problem?
The latest chapter in the conflict has been about a new satellite “Performance Based Navigation” (PBN) system introduced at the airport at the start of October 2023 to ensure Belgium meets EU standards due to come into effect in January 2024.
After testing took place and the subsequent implementation of the system had already happened, Flanders made a series of legal challenges, claiming that areas north and north-west of the so-called “Vlaamse Rand” (the 19 Flemish municipalities that encircle Brussels) are disproportionately affected by new flight paths to and from the airport, both during the day and at night, causing increased disturbance for Flemish residents especially of Wemmel, Meise, Grimbergen, Vilvoorde and Machelen.
Parts of those areas have received millions of euros in compensation for noise pollution, and the Flemish Environment department recently confirmed the increase in flyovers – a finding that seems to have emboldened the region to make further complaints.
Legal objections “insufficiently detailed”
The Environment department’s input set in motion a suite of legal objections, including a complaint filed with the Brussels Court of First Instance, a suspension appeal with the Council of State and the filing of a conflict-of-interest motion with the Consultation Committee.
Now though, the Council of State is back with a decision, and, despite the prior confidence of Flemish minister Ben Weyts (N-VA), the Council has not in fact “vindicated” Flanders. Instead the Council rejected Flanders’ appeal, saying the region’s objections were insufficiently detailed. The Council also noted that during trial runs of the new PBN back in 2018 and 2019, Flanders expressed no concerns.
As a result, the Council of State’s judgement is that the case files do not demonstrate “what additional noise pollution would result from this shift in air routes.”
Off the hook?
That decision will be welcomed by Georges Gilkinet, Federal Mobility Minister charged with overseeing flight routes. He had previously said he understood “the concerns of residents, who suffer greatly from noise pollution from the national airport,” and went on to promise that adjustments to flight paths would be made if a “thorough analysis and comparison between old and new routes from the Directorate General of Aviation” confirmed the Flemish environmental findings. It could be argued that, for the moment at least, the Council of State’s ruling lets him off the hook.