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Noisy planes at Brussels Airport sparked Belgian political war

by editor

BRUSSELS — The Flemish government wants Belgium’s federal government to pay fines of €100,000 a day as long as flight paths at Brussels Zaventem Airport bother Flemish people.

It’s part of a broader political scrap over the airport, which is pitting Belgium’s fractious regional governments against each other and against the central federal administration.

In February a Brussels court ruled in favor of five Flemish communities that had challenged a new flight route plan rolled out in October, and gave the central government six months to come up with new routes.

Flanders complains that the new flight routes spare Brussels while sending aircraft roaring over Flemish neighborhoods.

“It cannot be that the federal government intervenes to make Brussels a kind of no-fly zone, while the noise pollution is for Flanders,” Ben Weyts, Flemish minister for the Dutch-speaking area surrounding Brussels, said on Monday.

“A heavy penalty should just force the breakthrough,” he added, announcing he will ask the Court of Appeal to impose a fine for every day the federal government fails to outline new flight routes. The request will be part of a new proceeding launched after the Belgian government appealed the February ruling.

“We demand €100,000 per day on behalf of the affected residents of Vilvoorde, Machelen, Wemmel, Grimbergen, Meise and the other Flemish municipalities that are disproportionately burdened,” Weyts said.

Although the airport lies in Flanders, Weyts said everyone in the country benefits so “the burdens must also be shared equitably.”

Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet said he had not yet received a complaint from Flanders, but denounced it as a political stunt ahead of the June 9 national and regional elections.

Gilkinet is a member of the Greens, while Weyts is with the nationalist New Flemish Alliance.

“I have complete empathy for the inconveniences suffered by people who are overflown wherever they live, in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels,” Gilkinet added. “And that’s why I want to reduce the authorized noise volume for aircraft according to the time of day and provide for silent nights.”

According to Belgium’s Superior Health Council, some 160,000 people around the hub are at increased risk of exposure to excessive noise, which can lead to sleep disorders, learning difficulties, high blood pressure and depression.

The airport is located in the Flemish town of Zaventem, so the Flemish government is responsible for the environmental permit — which was renewed in March. Flight plans, however, are a national competence.

The Flemish municipalities around the airport are challenging the air routing plan, arguing it was revised without consulting the communities affected.

According to Weyts, a daily fine of €100,000 is “not inconceivable … since the federal government already has to pay €50,000 per week in penalties to some municipalities” as the result of another court ruling.

But the Flemish environment permit is also causing political scuffles.

The renewal didn’t include a ban on night flights, as demanded by several NGOs, residents and the Superior Health Council, which issued its advice after the new permit was approved.

That prompted Alain Maron, the Green Party environment minister in the Brussels regional government, to announce he’ll take the permit to court.

Maron’s legal challenge, which has yet to be formalized, won’t represent the entire Brussels regional government, as the Liberals oppose the action. But it is in line with the Walloon regional government, which has also announced it will lodge an appeal against the permit.

The federal government is calling for calm.

“We’ll only get out of this mess if we work with dialogue and method,” Gilkinet said.

He said he’s presented a draft law on how to determine flight routes, which is awaiting discussion by the next Belgian government.

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