Brussels airport night flight ban crash lands

Belgian PM vetoes Green transport minister's plan; all-party group to report back

A controversial plan by Belgian transport minister Isabelle Durant to reduce noise from Brussels' main airport by 80% by banning night flights has been overruled by prime minister Guy Verhofstadt. Alternative proposals will be put forward in three weeks by a six-party group of ministers from the country's "rainbow coalition" government, under the prime minister's chairmanship.

The cabinet yesterday decided to take responsibility for the sensitive issue of noise at Zaventem airport away from Ms Durant, leader of francophone Belgium's green party, and place it in the hands of a technical group. A spokesperson for the prime minister said the work would build on the plan presented by Ms Durant, who deserved "merit" for having put the issue on the agenda.

Nevertheless, Mr Verhofstadt is clearly displeased with his transport minister. The spokesperson said he wanted a solution which "reconciles politics and ecology," but that this "can't be found in the Durant proposal." Ms Durant enraged the airport and cargo users by announcing that flights would be banned between 01.00 and 05.00 from 2003 and that noise quotas would be introduced between 23.00 and 07.00 (ENDS Daily 6 January). The decision came only days after the minister was given responsibility for the dossier.

Express courier DHL said the decision ignored a recent consultation exercise and would force it to pull out of the airport with the loss of 6000 jobs. Environmentalists and residents say the airport is the fastest-growing in Europe and that an average of 67 flights each night impose an intolerable burden. The prime minister's spokesperson said an eventual solution might include better air-rail connections at Zaventem, but added that "in any event, the development of the airport must not be threatened."

Follow Up:
Belgian transport ministry, tel: +32 2 237 6711;

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