The point of Antwerp Airport’s existence has been called into question by Belgium’s Flemish green party (Groen), Belga news agency has reported.
As part of an ongoing debate about the number of airports in Belgium and the amount of taxpayers’ money they need to make them viable, Groen put in a request for data on Antwerp Airport’s flight movements.
Those figures have now revealed that 72% of flights at the airport last year were classed as domestic. That adds up to a colossal 30,000 flights. The airport receives three euros in government aid, for every one euro of turnover, as reported by various Belgian news outlets earlier this year.
The party’s response to the scale of domestic flights at the airport was scathing. “It is completely irrational for the Flemish government to pump millions of euros of taxpayers’ money into a loss-making, redundant airport for air traffic within its borders,” it said.
Echoing comments by federal Mobility minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), the Green party added: “The Flemish government is wasting our tax money.”
Antwerp is not only running at a loss. It is also a hub for domestic flights, not transport flights. It is ridiculous to fly from Antwerp to Brussels or around Antwerp just for fun.The Green party
3. Pilot training
The airport has defended itself with authorities highlighting its role as a hub for pilot training.
“We provide the pilots of the future,” said a representative. “There are half a dozen pilot schools in Antwerp, and we have the necessary equipment, such as navigation systems and simulators, to train them.”
That’s a view shared by University of Antwerp Associate Professor Wouter Dewulf who notes that “pilots in training simply have to learn how to land and take off.”
“The training flights are also made without passengers and not with the big, polluting jets, but with propellers that use less fuel,” Dewulf said. Meanwhile, most flights carrying passengers are international flights, such as those run by tourism conglomerate TUI.
4. Private flights made possible through government aid
Following a record number of flights by private jet in 2022 (more than half as many again as pandemic year 2021), various Belgian airports have come in for criticism. Brussels–London and Brussels–Antwerp were the most frequently flown routes by private jet.
Yet Antwerp Airport would not be able to exist at all without government aid. Cost-benefit research undertaken last year showed it would have to increase its 300,000 annual passengers fivefold by 2040 to make a profit, something that, without miraculous advances in sustainable air transport technology, would increase the country’s carbon emissions significantly.
“For the Flemish government, the climate crisis does not seem to exist,” Dewulf’s UAntwerp colleague, mobility expert Dirk Lauwers has remarked.