The latest installment in an ongoing row about Brussels Airport’s flight paths is here, as Flanders invokes a conflict-of-interest procedure over routes it says are unfairly concentrated over the region.
Airport expansion concerns, environmental and noise pollution complaints have dogged the airport for some years. As previously reported by Travel Tomorrow, the airport has been paying 50,000 euros a week, adding up to millions of euros in compensation to some neighbourhoods around the hub, which is situated in Zaventem on the northern edge of the city.
A recent adjustment to flight paths around the airport due to a new satellite-based navigation technique called Performance Based Navigation, PBN for short, has led to claims that the north and north-west of the Vlaamse Rand are disproportionately affected by the new routes, both during the day and at night.
Concentrated over Flanders
Those claims have been verified by the Flemish Environment department, which says flight paths have indeed been more concentrated in the areas above Flanders, specifically Wemmel, Meise, Grimbergen, Vilvoorde and Machelen, since the PBN system was brought online in early October.
In 2018 werd de federale regering al veroordeeld voor de concentratie van vliegroutes boven de Vlaamse Rand. Met het wijzigen van vliegroutes gaat men daar nu nog in verder. Het belangenconflict moet de wijziging in vliegroutes opschorten. Maar we zetten ook juridische stappen. pic.twitter.com/4dfSCERYEX— Ben Weyts (@BenWeyts) October 16, 2023
“If you look at the maps, you see that flight paths do happen to skirt the border with the Brussels region and all flights are concentrated over the Flemish areas. Moreover, flights are concentrated in a much narrower corridor. That means people living there will even more be affected by aircraft noise,” said Flemish minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) speaking to VRT NEWS.
Federal v. regional conflict
A conflict-of-interest procedure comes into play when a region’s interests are compromised by a federal government policy. Invoking the process, Weyts said: “We are arguing that on the basis of a technical pretext the federal government has started shifting flight paths, both during the day and at night. As a result, even more flights fly over Flemish areas and fewer are overflying the Brussels region.”
Weyts added that the conflict-of-interest claim should mean the recent route changes are “reversed.” Referring to his area’s successful compensation bid, he said the courts have “already vindicated us in the past.”
Meanwhile Federal mobility minister in charge of flight routes, Georges Gilkinet (Francophone green/Ecolo) has undertaken to address the issue. “I understand the concerns of residents, who suffer greatly from noise pollution from the national airport,” his office told VRT NEWS.
That is why I am taking action and making proposals to reduce noise pressure for these local residents.Georges Gilkinet, Federal Mobility Minister in Charge of Flight Routes
Gilkinet’s problem is that Belgium is obliged to introduce the new PBN system under European rules. He nonetheless promised adjustments would be made if a “thorough analysis and comparison between old and new routes from the Directorate General of Aviation” confirmed the findings so far.