Published on April 6th, 2016 | by Jim Lee0
Brussels Airport reopens to limited operations as first Brussels Airlines flight departs to Faro
Brussels Airport reopened to limited operations on the afternoon of Sunday 3rd April. This was the first passenger flight since the attacks on Brussels Airport on 22nd March and appropriately enough, the honour of the first flight went to Brussels Airlines. Flight SN1901 took off at around 13:40 and was operated by Airbus A320-214, OO-SNC. This aircraft was the one recently repainted in special ‘Magritte’ colours. The flight to Faro was one of just three symbolic passenger flights operated that day. The other two were to Turin, and Athens, also operated by Brussels Airlines.
This first passenger flight was given a salute of honour by the emergency services during a low-key reopening ceremony at the airport, that was held in the presence of Minister of Mobility Jacqueline Galant and Minister of Defence Steven Vandeput.
The departure of the first passenger flight was an emotional moment for the entire airport community. It was also a symbol for a new start and for the energy, solidarity and commitment of all the airport staff. During the previous 12 days, thousands of employees have been working day and night to make this possible.
“Thanks to this work, your work, we can today spread a message of hope. Today we show our strength, show that we have risen again, that we will not allow ourselves to be beaten. It is the start of a new beginning, even if the is still so much work to be done to return things to a normal situation, to the extent that it will ever again be normal”, said Arnaud Feist, CEO of the Brussels Airport Company.
“These flights are the first hopeful sign from an airport that is standing up straight after a cowardly attack. That we are able to make this start only 12 days after the devastating attacks is a sign of our collective strength at Brussels Airport”, he added.
“The attack has struck at the heart of everybody. But it is important to pick up the thread. Brussels Airport is country’s the second largest economic generator. The airport not only gives 20,000 people a job, but, thanks to the connectivity with the rest of the world, allow companies in our country to develop and grow”, Marc Descheemaecker, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Brussels Airport Company, added.
In a comment on its website Brussels Airport welcomed Brussels Airlines back to its home base and while it gave “a massive thanks to all airport staff,” its thoughts forever were for “the victims, their relatives and friends.”
Brussels Airport resolute despite difficulties
Despite the difficulties, Mr. Feist, was steadfast in thanking all airport staff and the airport police for their efforts at the time of the attacks and subsequently. “I have heard dozens of stories from the fire services, from the operational teams, administrative staff and also from the airport police, about what they went through and saw”, he said.
He went on; “These people arrived very quickly at the scene. With risk for their own lives, they fearlessly went inside to help others. I cannot call this anything but heroic, and I have the very deepest respect for these actions. In the days that followed, I have also seen much courage, pride for Brussels Airport and persistence is being shown by everybody. That makes me very hopeful for the future of our airport and convinces me that we will emerge stronger than ever from this crisis.”
Brussels Airport has said that in the coming days, the number of flights will be gradually increased and passenger flights will also land at Brussels Airport (the initial Faro service returned to Liège). From Monday, 4th April, Brussels Airlines has gradually been able to expand its Brussels Airport operations with the addition of more regional European flights and long-haul services including services to New York and to cities in Cameroon, Gambia and Senegal. In addition, passengers have also been re-routed to nearby hubs such as Amsterdam and Paris, leading to exceptionally high demand on high-speed trains to and from Brussels. Airbus A320-214, OO-SNC, for example, operated three services on 4th April to Paris, Nice and Berlin. Unfortunately, expenses from re-routing passenger traffic and from lost revenues are costing Brussels Airlines around €5 million a day.
Brussels Airlines CEO Bernard Gustin also expressed words of compassion and thanks saying; “Our thoughts remain with everyone affected by the attacks of 22nd March.” He went on: “These past 11 days, we have been working in extremely difficult operational and emotional conditions. We have done our utmost to bring thousands of Brussels Airlines passengers to their destination. This was possible thanks to our own flights, but also thanks to flight options provided by partners. This was, is and will remain our first priority, in addition to the support given to our staff. I thank our customers for their understanding. We acknowledge that due to the circumstances, our service was not always on the level that our customers are used to getting from us. The many words of encouragement we received are heart-warming. The organisation of our flights required an enormous commitment of our employees and services at the airports of Antwerp, Liège, Frankfurt and Zurich. I am very grateful for their outstanding efforts. They made the impossible possible. Finally, a huge thank you to Brussels Airport Company, which has worked day and night to reopen the airport.”
However, the current infrastructural limitations means that many regional flights will remain at Liège and Antwerp, while some long-haul services will continue to be operated from Frankfurt and Zurich.
“In the following days, the number of flights will gradually be increased to the maximum capacity of the temporary structures, that is 800 departing passengers per hour,” the airport said in a statement. “Other airlines, besides Brussels Airlines, will also recommence their operations at Brussels Airport in the days ahead” it added.
Nevertheless, in view of the limited capacity, not all airlines will be able to resume all their flights at Brussels Airport. “I am very well aware that not every airline can or wants to return to Brussels Airport. I personally promise that Brussels Airport will do everything in its power to increase as quickly as possible the capacity of our airport and to quickly grow the economic activities of our airport”, Mr. Feist noted.
Unfortunately, Delta Air Lines has announced that it will temporarily suspend its daily Atlanta-Brussels service, the DL080/1, for at least one year, as a result of an expected decrease in leisure demand, following the attacks. It will however retain its daily Boeing 767-300 service from New York JFK, the DL042/3, which is more “business oriented” and which is tentatively scheduled to resume on 7th April.
In another example of the effect on the airport, Lufthansa have cancelled all flights to Brussels noting that between 22nd March and 3rd April, 265 flights have been affected. Instead Lufthansa is offering a shuttle bus service between Brussels and Frankfurt airport and operating some flights from Liège.
Brussels Airport has also started the demolition work to remove all damaged elements in the departure hall. In the coming weeks, the Brussels Airport Company will be working on a strategic plan for the reconstruction of the departure hall.
This will take place in two stages, whereby the focus in the first stage will be on restoring the functionality of several check-in desks in the departure hall. In the second stage, the work will focus on a comprehensive reopening of the departure hall. A timing for this has not yet been fixed but overall, the airport hopes to have the terminal back to full operational capacity, by the start of the summer holidays at the of June, beginning of July.
Brussels Airport – now a very different place
While the partial reopening of Brussels airport to passenger traffic is welcome, the airport is a very different place to that which existed prior to 22nd March. In an attempt to avoid a repeat of these events, there is enhanced security and passengers are now screened on an approach road and again before check-in. The airport can, at the moment, only be reached by car or taxi. In the coming days, the airport will examine the possibility of restarting other means of transport, such as bus and train. Those travelling are advised to arrive at least two hours before departure for Schengen destinations and three hours for non-Schengen treaty areas. They are also advised to have their identity papers and travel documents handy in the car and at the temporary check-in area.
Dropping passengers is only possible in front of parking P2. All other parking areas are closed for the moment, including the discount parking at Brucargo. It is not possible to accompany the passengers to the check-in area. At the parking area, only people with an air ticket will be allowed through to the temporary check-in. The access to the temporary departure hall is located at the bus station level (level 0).
The terminal where the attacks took place on 22nd March is still being renovated and is not publicly accessible. Therefore departing passengers will be received in temporary constructions for check-in. Once checked in, passengers ascend via stairs to the airport building. This route leads to the screening platform in the Connector Building, in which they pass through the usual access and security controls, from where the normal routing for passengers continues as before. The route to the gates, A or T, remains unchanged. Schengen flights leave from gates A, while Non-Schengen flights leave from gates T (with additional border control).
Unfortunately, there is not any catering or shopping in the temporary departures area, while ‘airside’ catering is limited, as is Duty Free. While trolleys are available to transport luggage from the car park to the entrance of the temporary departures hall, no trolleys are available in the temporary departures hall, and passengers are advised to travel light and limit their luggage. While there is an elevator to reach the Connector, it is strictly reserved for elderly people, families with buggies and passengers with reduced mobility. Services however are still available for passengers with reduced mobility, through Axxicom Airport Caddy, and a reception desk for ‘Special Assistance’ is located in the temporary departure hall.
For arriving passengers, their routing depends on where there are coming from. For passengers arriving from a Schengen destination, nothing changes since they come from the A gates. They should simply follow the exit indication and the luggage reclaim, and go out via the arrivals hall. For passengers coming from a non-Schengen destination, a bus will bring passengers from gates T to gates B, for border control. From there, they follow the usual way out: after the border control and arrive in the reclaim area and go out via the arrivals hall. This area was only slightly damaged by the attacks and has since been repaired. Collecting passengers is only possible from in front of parking P2. A pick-up area has been created, where drivers can wait for the people they are meeting. In P2, the first 10 minutes is free of charge. If you remain within that limit, you do not need to validate your ticket at the ticket machines but can use your ticket to drive out.
The attack on Brussels Airport has reignited the debate about how best to secure Europe’s airports and avoid creating too much disruption for passengers. Experts have stressed the need to avoid simply ‘moving’ vulnerable areas, such as what has happened in Brussels, by introducing screening at airport entrances. The modern terrorist is not attacking the airport itself, but rather they are seeking out the maximum number of targets gathered together. Their aim is to kill and main not specifically damaged infrastructure.
At an emergency meeting of the EU Committee for Civil Aviation Security, existing security measures in landside areas of EU airports were reviewed. EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said they agreed on the need for better intelligence-sharing, in order to be, “even more proactive and even more efficient in safety”. However, she added that any additional security measures must “be proportionate and risk-based”, noting that “this is a matter for national authorities.”
Whether the measures adopted by Brussels Airport are “proportionate and risk-based”, are matters for others to decide. Whether airports can be kept free and only available for those meeting or accompanying passengers on the periphery, is debateable, particularly in the long term. Whether airports can survive economically in circumstances that only passengers are permitted and then whisked through airports, in the minimum of time with the maximum of inconvenience, remains to be seen. Certainly Brussels Airport is a very different place and the question is will others follow?
As previously noted, Brussels Airlines managed to launch the inaugural service of it’s a new five-times-a-week service to Belfast George Best City Airport, on 27th March, but unfortunately, the flights for the next two days of operations had to be cancelled. On 1st April, the service, the SN1551, was operated by BAe Avro RJ100, OO-DWG, which again arrived from Antwerp, at 15:45. Unfortunately, the aircraft went ‘tec and a replacement aircraft, OO-DWK arrived as the SN9951 at 17:54. It departed back to Antwerp as the SN1552 at 18:55. OO-DWG departed the following morning as the SN9952 and there was no service on the 3rd April. With booked passengers numbers said to be barely in double figures, the future is not bright for this service. Also with the current massive inconvenience for passengers at Brussels, prospective passengers must surely looking at the daily flights from Belfast City to Amsterdam, as an alternative. The loss of the new service would be unfortunate both for Belfast City Airport and the airline, and will only add to the woes that the latter is experiencing.