Report Forum 2040
Thematic session on the impact of Vision 2040 in terms of air noise
As an introduction to the discussions, Piet Demunter reminded the participants of why Brussels Airport Company developed its Strategic Vision 2040. He underlined that the objective of this vision is to reinforce connectivity, an essential aspect for passengers, for our economy and for the international role played by Brussels. So the objective is not growth at any price, but to protect the airport’s current market share. For the Belgian economy, it is important that Brussels Airport Company’s market share does not crumble. Brussels Airport must keep up with expected growth on the European market, as otherwise it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. Growth should at least be in line with that of air in Europe and the rest of the world, whilst ensuring a balanced approach between the airport and all other stakeholders involved.
Mr Demunter also repeated that:
- there is a constant need for peak capacity in all weather conditions.
- there is a need for additional peak capacity.
- it should be made possible for Brussels Airport to accommodate simultaneous operations on two fully-equipped runways, in all weather conditions.
- options A and B were suggested by Brussels Airport Company to ensure sufficient capacity, enabling the airport to meet the expected increase in demand, and to preserve its market share according to the principles above.
Wouter Vermeersch from the independent consultancy office To70 then showed the results of the air noise impact analysis on the basis of options A and B and on the basis of the expected development of air traffic in Brussels by 2040.
After a first question and answer session, the participants were then divided into three groups to further discuss the content of the presentations. Mr Demunter and Mr Vermeersch went to each of these groups and answered their questions.
Suggestions and thoughts on the importance of connectivity
The question asked by Piet Demunter, ‘Do you share Brussels Airport’s vision of improving connectivity?’ was the focus of the first debates:
A large number of participants from all categories represented shared this vision and appreciate the need of connectivity:
- The connectivity provided by the airport is important for the development of economic activities. Economic activity, including in the pharmaceuticals sector – a leading sector for the Belgian economy –, is heavily dependent on the airport.
- A competitive and profitable airport is also important in order to safeguard employment. According to the representatives of the airport community, a loss of the airport’s market share would inevitably lead to a decrease in its added value for our economy and consequently for employment.
- If this connectivity cannot be guaranteed by Brussels Airport, it will be provided by airports in neighbouring countries, either Schiphol, Frankfurt or Charles De Gaulle, to the detriment of the Belgian economy and jobs in our country.
However, this vision must be tenable for the different players:
- A Brussels Airport representative pointed out that balanced growth often means different things for the stakeholders. Some participants (residents and mayors) believe that residents’ concerns are not taken sufficiently into account and that residents should be considered more as ‘customers’ of the airport.
- Some residents and mayors argued that the growth of the airport is only possible if it goes hand in hand with a fairer distribution of the noise pollution.
- One participant asked if part of this need for connectivity could be fulfilled by an increase in the number of high-speed train connections.
- Some mayors underlined that Brussels Airport’s situation cannot be compared to that of the motorways and public transport, as Brussels Airport must first and foremost meet objectives set by private shareholders.
Suggestions for Brussels Airport Company:
- Various participants considered that a solution for night flights would already be a big step forward. Some residents even argued for simply ban any night flights, underlining that this would also facilitate discussions with Brussels Capital Region.
- According to some, Brussels Airport Company should play a more active role with respect to resolving the conflict regarding flight routes.
- Some participants also asked for clarifications regarding the growth of the number of jobs mentioned in the Strategic Vision 2040.
Suggestions and thoughts on the impact of air noise
This question gave rise to numerous comments from participants and led to debates that were sometimes animated. Some participants regretted, however, that they didn't have a copy of the presentations before the session and that they didn't have enough time to ask the To70 expert questions. The airport representatives mentioned that the aim was to provide participants with the information and the experts’ explanations, before anyone else receives them, during the Forum session. It was agreed that a copy of the experts’ presentations would be handed out during the next session.
The participants underlined that:
- The studies carried out are based on European and international standards. This makes it easier to compare with other European airports.
- Some participants pointed out that these methods are many years old and should be reviewed. One of the participants underlined that the study carried out by To70 is not based on the right criteria and that a new study should be carried out.
- Several residents believed that studies like these are useless because they don't take into account the accumulated nuisance. The issue of the frequency of flights was underlined by several of them. According to some, the figures are distorted because the impact is measured over a whole year and for different runway configurations. Some participants asked whether it would be possible to calculate the impact over more specific periods or for a specific runway.
- One participant pointed out that the WHO is said to be working on a new directive. This would be based on a criterion of 40 Lden, rather than 45 Lden contour which is used today by the Flemish authorities to determine how many persons are severely impacted during the night.
- Various people from the aviation sector underlined that the operating restrictions have already become much stricter over the past ten years.
- Changes in terms of criteria must be made at the European level, because if Brussels Airport uses other methodologies, it will no longer be possible to make a comparison.
- Participants also underlined that the number of people impacted is much larger than the number mentioned in the noise contours. One of the mayors attending was surprised that his municipality was not listed among the areas impacted, whereas he believes that the noise impact of the planes is very noticeable in his municipality.
- Some residents and socio-economic players underlined that the perception of noise is also very personal.
- Several participants (both on the side of the residents and the socio-economic players) regretted that the airport’s Vision 2040 does not take more account of technological innovations, which will undoubtedly solve part of the problem of the impact of air noise over the coming years. The expert from To70 confirmed that the air noise from planes has been halved over the past 15 years, while the Belgocontrol representative underlined that technological advances in flight procedures will also make it possible to reduce the impact of air noise.
- Some residents believe that Brussels Airport should simply ban planes that are too noisy. To which a representative of the airport operator replied that Brussels Airport has made great efforts for years now to attract more modern and consequently less noisy planes via differentiated charges and fees.
- Some mayors and residents pointed out that they would also like to take advantage of the Forum 2040 to bring up the compensations which expropriated residents will receive due to the development of the airport, as was the case at Schiphol, Charleroi and Liège.
- One of the participants asked if studies had also been carried out on the impact of the noise on health and the impact on the environment. A representative of Brussels Airport Company replied that these studies, along with other studies, must be carried out in the framework of the MER (environmental impact assessment report).
Brussels Airport repeated that it wants a stable legal and operational framework. This is also what the airlines want, as in order to make investments, they need stability. This is also what citizens want in order to be able to buy/rent their home with a full understanding of the situation. A stable framework will also make it possible to implement policies to reduce the impact on residents. This is what happened in other cities like Amsterdam.
Suggestions for Brussels Airport Company:
- One of the participants asked whether Brussels Airport could use part of its profits to create a compensation fund to cover damages caused by its activities.
- Several participants also asked if the liveability aspect could be given more emphasis in Vision 2040.
- Some participants asked whether it would be possible to carry out new studies on the impact of airborne noise, in particular by taking better account of the impact of frequency.
- Participants asked that the question of compensation for impacted residents be addressed in concrete terms.
- Several participants asked that Brussels Airport be actively committed to taking measures to reduce the impact, without always hiding behind measures that should be taken by the authorities.
Suggestions and thoughts on managing peaks
Several participants questioned the relevance of peak traffic periods at Brussels Airport. Some thought that there would be a way to better distribute the flights throughout the day.
Different airport stakeholders underlined that Brussels Airport must adapt to demand from customers. This market demand means that there is a peak in the morning and at night. The airport must adapt to market demand and to its customers’ requirements. Like the large majority of airports, Brussels Airport Company cannot tell airlines when to take off or land, as a huge airport hub where all timeslots are constantly occupied, for example Heathrow, can do. In order to ensure their profitability, airlines want to operate three rotations per day. So they have to start early in the morning. In addition, cargo planes fly at night, for example, because people want to have their parcels as soon as possible. And if planes take off early, it’s because passengers want to arrive at their destination early.
While underlining the economic importance of the airport, one mayor believes that the management of peaks does not take sufficient account of the noise pollution for residents.
A player in the airport community wondered why, in 2000, 326,000 movements were possible, while this is not currently possible without considerable changes.
Several participants (mayors and residents) drew attention to the fact that an airport like London Heathrow is able to deal with higher peaks with only two runways. Why isn't this possible here? Representatives of the airport community replied to them that 1) London Heathrow only has very large and heavy planes so it can allow itself a much shorter gap between planes than at Brussels Airport with its mix of planes of different sizes; 2) this was done to the detriment of plane punctuality (thus creating additional problems for the airport’s hub role) and 3) consequently a lot of planes are obliged to go round and round for some time above the city before receiving permission to land. The question is to work out whether this type of scenario is desirable.
Suggestions and thoughts following the two options (A or B) as well as the noise distribution
When asked if they favoured option A or option B, several participants regretted that the choice was limited to these two options. According to them, this was too narrow a way of presenting things and there are not enough scenarios on the table.
A representative of Brussels Airport reminded those present that various European airports will be completely saturated over the coming years, due to a lack of structural capacity. Brussels Airport’s vision is to optimise infrastructure first before opting for option A or B.
A citizen also reminded those present that the runways were initially badly built. The two options offer a solution but there is little leeway and Brussels Airport must operate in shackles. One of the participants asked if there would be a way to simply get rid of runway 01/19 once it is possible to use the two other runways on a permanent basis.
Some participants concluded:
- That the impact of option A or B would cause more noise pollution, even if this noise pollution will be reduced over the next 25 years due to quieter planes.
- The two options will increase noise pollution for the municipalities to the east of the airport.
- Some residents and mayors believe that the impact of option B in terms of noise is much too high for the neighbouring municipalities simply to allow planes to fly higher above Brussels and Zaventem. This is disproportionate.
- A certain number of mayors and residents are of the opinion that Brussels Airport Company’s proposals are mainly aimed at enabling airlines to avoid fines for excessive noise imposed by the Brussels Capital Region. In doing so, the airport is playing the Brussels card, while the Flemish municipalities must take the consequences. According to these participants, the inflexibility of Brussels thus turns out to be effective. > This suggestion was formally refuted by the representative of Brussels Airport Company: changes to infrastructure are planned in the medium or long term, while fines are already a reality today.
- Other participants insisted that the density of the population which is flown over should be taken into account. According to them, it is normal that more densely populated regions should be flown over less frequently.
- Some participants underlined that the density of some regions is not a valid excuse to avoid all the noise pollution. This attitude is unacceptable.
- One of the mayors underlined that if runway 25L is extended (option B), the buffer zone that currently reduces the impact for residents living at the end of this runway will be removed.
- One of the participants brought up the ‘polderbaan’ created by Schiphol, which is a runway that takes off towards an area with very few residents, but other participants replied that such a scenario is not feasible at Brussels Airport because all the areas around it are densely populated. One of the participants also underlined that we must stop quoting Schiphol as an example as here too, the situation of residents is difficult due to the high frequency of flights, and that Schiphol’s ‘polderbaan’ is not a good solution.
- One of the participants believed that there is a ‘third way’ (in addition to options A and B), namely the re-establishment of previous wind standards. He proposed that this option could also be taken into consideration. Other participants also suggested checking whether other scenarios could be considered rather than limiting ourselves to the proposed options A and B.
Suggestions for Brussels Airport Company:
- Examine the suggestions mentioned by participants in depth.