The environmental permit Brussels Airport needs to continue its operations expires in July 2024. To renew the permit, for current operations, meaning with no foreseen expansion, a public inquire has begun and an independent report conducted by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that the airport’s noise impact will decrease in the coming years despite the predicted growth in passengers and cargo.
1. Noise pollution
Since 2000, the airport’s noise pollution has already decreased 57%, according to the report. By 2032, the number of potentially highly impacted people will decrease 12% compared to 2019, despite the expected population growth around the airport. This is mainly due to fleet renewal, with 63% of flights expected to be operated by the most modern and noise-efficient aircraft (vs. 31% today) and by using modern landing techniques that are quieter and emit less CO2.
The airport is encouraging airlines to switch to modern aircraft through highly differentiated rates. Since April 2023, the quietest and most energy-efficient aircraft have to pay up to 20 times less, with nitrogen emissions also factored in. Furthermore, Brussels Airport is committed to quieter landing techniques, single-engine taxiing and the electrification of ground handling equipment. To further reduce the impact of ground noise, Brussels Airport will also deploy a new engine test run site with noise barriers.
The renewal of Brussels Airport’s permit is about continuing airport operations within the current infrastructure and rules. In its renewal application, the airport does not request any expansion of the runway infrastructure, nor any additional night slots. The airport does however expect to be allowed to grow in passenger numbers and cargo volumes.
Besides calculating the current environmental impact, based on data from 2019, the EIA also examined a future scenario within the existing infrastructure. This future scenario assumes an evolution to 32 million passengers and 1 million tonnes of flown cargo in 2032, with the number of aircraft movements remaining more or less stable compared to 2019 and still 26% lower than in 2000. This growth, the report said, is achievable within the current number of night slots, which was reduced by 36% to the current 16,000 in 2009.
In terms of air quality and emissions from airport activities, the expected growth has a slight impact on certain pollutants, but emissions will remain below the threshold of the applicable air quality standards. CO2 emissions are expected to decrease by bringing the airport operator’s own emissions (scope 1 & 2) to 0 by 2030, thanks to new fossil-free heating systems, among other things. Emissions from aircraft operations are also expected to decrease through further fleet renewal and the use of biofuels. By 2026, the airport plans to impose a minimum 5% sustainable aircraft fuels (SAF) usage.
The EIA shows that the airport contributes to nitrogen deposition in some nearby natural areas, especially those located along busy traffic axes such as the E19. Nitrogen emissions from airport operations in Flanders will however remain within the limit for aviation provided for in the agreement with the local government and will not stand in the way of achieving Flemish nitrogen reduction targets.
Experts recommend consulting with the owners and managers of Natura 2000 sites in the vicinity and investigating mitigation measures. For example, strengthening the forest edge in certain nature reserves can have a positive impact on nitrogen deposition. Brussels Airport will have to take this up with wildlife managers and see what role the airport can play in mitigating nitrogen emissions and their impact.