Belgium plans ban on night flights in Brussels

Four-hour no-fly period to cut noise levels by 80%; major courier firm slams decision

Commercial night flights from Brussels airport will be prohibited from 2003, Belgian transport minister Isabelle Durant announced on Monday. The plan has taken both the airport and one of its main commercial users by surprise. It must still be approved at a government meeting next week.

According to Ms Durant's proposals, commercial flights will be banned from 1am to 5am from summer 2003, while noise "quotas" for operations between 11pm and 7am will be reduced by 80% compared to levels in 1999. From the beginning of next year maximum noise levels for individual aircraft will be introduced.

The move would "significantly reduce" the level of noise nuisance, which had been "inflicted" on local residents for "too long," the ministry said. The restrictions had been "inspired" by recent similar developments at three London airports, it added. Exemptions would be granted for humanitarian aid operations or busy periods linked to important events.

In a statement, Brussels airport said it was "astonished" at the announcement by one of the Belgian government's two green Ecolo party ministers. It said the decision had been taken without any regard to a consultation exercise led by the airport and would "call into question" the equilibrium between an economic activity employing thousands of people and the health of locals.

International courier DHL, which uses the airport as its main hub and headquarters outside the USA, expressed "disbelief" at the decision, which it said would "sacrifice" 6000 direct and indirect jobs. Sources say the restrictions would effectively end 50% of the airport's freight business. Around 9% of the airport's total traffic occurs at night.

Follow Up:
Belgian transport ministry, tel: +32 2 237 6711; Brussels Zaventem airport, tel: +32 2 753 4200: DHL Belgium, tel: +32 2 713 4000.

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