A Slow Recovery for Brussels

Brussels National Airport said it could take months before it is fully re-opened following the terrorist attacks on March 22 that killed 35 and injured more than 300.

Around 800 workers returned to the facility on March 28 to test contingency arrangements, including temporary check-in facilities and significantly increased security measures.  As Airliner World went to press, the airport was still awaiting government approval to re-open, albeit at a much-reduced capacity of 800-1,000 passengers per hour rather than the regular 5,000.

Brussels National’s CEO Arnaud Feist told Belgian media on March 30: “The provisional structure will not be able to absorb the usual number we had before the attacks.”  He added: “Although the structure of the building is intact, it will all have to be rebuilt, from the air conditioning to the check-in desks.  And that will take months.”

Airport management had initially hoped for a swift reopening but plans have been delayed by the scale of the damage – centred on the departure hall – and the new security measures that are being demanded by the Belgian Government.  The operator also had to wait for the police to conclude forensic examinations – a process that took five days – before the clean-up could begin.  Their provisional survey of the terminal found the main building was stable, though a statement from the airport authorities on March 27 said: “The simple fact is that a restart in the short term is not possible in the devastated infrastructure.”

The facility had been closed since March 22 after it was rocked by two separate explosions – at opposite ends of the departure hall – shortly before 8am.  This was followed barely an hour later by another explosion, at the Maelbeek metro station close to the European Commission in central Brussels.  The Daesh-affiliated news agency AMAQ said its fighters carried out “a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices”.  It also said the extremists opened fire at the airport and that “several of them” detonated suicide belts in both attacks.

In an open letter published on the airport’s website, Feist dubbed his staff “super-human and brave” and thanked them for their “endeavour, courage and resilience”.

The closure caused widespread travel disruption, with airlines forced to implement contingency measures.  This included Belgian national carrier Brussels Airlines, which introduced a limited European network from Liège and Antwerp, and relocated its long-haul operations to Zurich where they could continue to connect with the carrier’s Star Alliance partners.

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