Proposal to transfer Brussels International Airport to Flanders

Proposal to transfer Brussels International Airport to Flanders
Credit: Belga

A bill proposed by three Flemish politicians from the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party seeks to transfer the administration of Brussels’ International Airport (Zaventem) to the Flemish regional government, according to Walloon newspaper La Libre Belgique.

“Why are all the consequences of the decisions on Zaventem airport such as noise pollution, traffic, and land use planning the responsibility of Flanders?,” ask N-VA deputies Theo Francken, Bert Wollants, and Sander Loones.

Currently, Brussels International Airport sits within the Flanders region. Nevertheless, it is under the jurisdiction of Belgium’s Federal Government. The Government holds a 25% share in the airport, while the BAISA consortium owns the remaining 75% of shares.

The bill submitted by the N-VA politicians aims to regionalise the airport, placing it under the oversight of the Flemish government.

“Zaventem deserves a dynamic policy and our Federal Government cannot give it to it,” the Flemish nationalists explain. The N-VA party states that the airport “plays an important role for the Flemish economy and the employment of its inhabitants”, despite its proximity to Brussels.

Brussels International Airport has been at the centre of controversy for several years. Despite promises to not use a short runway except in exceptional circumstances, the airport routinely uses it for landings, creating an extremely low and loud flightpath over central Brussels and eastern neighbourhoods in Flanders and the Brussels region.

Previous class action lawsuits fined the Federal Government €9.45 million for excessive use of the runway. In May, an additional 392 families joined the suit, which will likely cost the Federal Government an additional €40 million.

Giving back to the regions

The N-VA states that the Federal Government has shown “no ambition” in strengthening the position of the airport or reducing noise pollution. The party also denounces the poor rail connectivity at the airport, poor mobility, as well as a weak police presence.

N-VA politician Theo Francken even claims that “dirty political games” were being played during the contention for the role of president of the board of directors of Brussels airport.

To date, the oversight of nearly all of Belgium’s airports have been delegated to the regions. The N-VA argues that Antwerp, Charleroi, and Ostend’s airports are all controlled by Flemish and Walloon authorities.

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As a result of the noise, infrastructure issues, and lack of development, the party now argues that Flanders can “no longer accept that the Federal government decides and that Flanders pays the price.”

The N-VA politicians state that no modifications to the constitution would be necessary to complete the transfer of the airport to Flemish authorities. In total, the airport hires some 60,000 full-time employees in the aviation sector, to the benefit of both Flanders and Brussels.

Last year, a total 118,733 flights departed and arrived at the airport, down 49% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Passenger flights dropped by 60% to an average of 115 passengers per flight.

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