Brussels Airport is Facing Tougher Noise Regulations

For Brussels Airport the new year has raised mixed emotions and 2017 has set in with mixed feelings. The introduction of an e-AWB Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) may give the cargo business another boost. On the other hand, a de facto ban on B747-400 operations may spoil much of the game.

BRU introduces an e-AWB Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)  -  photo: ms
BRU introduces an e-AWB Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) - photo: ms

Good things first. Thee-AWB SOP was drafted last week by the working group e-Freight within the umbrella organization Air Cargo Belgium (ACB). It will be disseminated in the cargo community and discussed during a consultation round between the end of January and mid-February.
The BRU SOP has already been published at IATA’s SOP list, says Alban François, VP Cargo at Brussels Airlines and ACB’s secretary. “Our objective is to have SOP ratified at ACB’s general assembly on 6 March 2017. As ACB we have also applied for membership for e-AWB 360 and the same goes for Brussels Airlines Cargo.”

Belly cargo volume down
With only a 0.8% decrease of its cargo figures over the first 11 months of 2016 compared to the same period last year, Brussels Airport has made a remarkable recovery in this annus horribilis. Hopes are high that a status quo or even a small growth may well be in reach.
Growth was generated in all segments except belly cargo which, from January through November, fell some 13.3% to 113,957 tonnes. Freighter volume rose by 4.4% to 331,161 tonnes.

Exit for the B747-400?
However, a particular problem Brussels Airport will have to tackle in the short term is in its conflicting noise regulations. The deeper cause is in the byzantine complexity of federal and regional legislation resulting from the on-going state reform Belgium has been going through over the last decades.
Brussels Airport, Belgium’s national airport is entirely on Flemish territory. The Brussels region is an enclave on the same territory and it has the authority to set its own noise regulation, which is more stringent than the Flemish and the federal one. The region has introduced a set of noise caps and in principle, any aircraft violating these norms is liable to fines. During the night the decisive barrier is lower than during daytime and part of the discussion is about the exact limits of night vs. daytime. According to the federal and international regulations, night time ends at 6 a.m. However, for Brussels it is at 7 a.m.
Over the last 15 years, the Brussels region has taken a rather lenient approach as to compliance with its noise regulation. Instead of fining noisy aircraft, they can get away with a warning. Now the Brussels Region has decided to drop this margin of tolerance, which would mean impressive fines on any aircraft violating the noise regulations as from 1 January. Most affected are flights between 6 and 7 a.m. The B747-400 only is the most vulnerable aircraft in this respect, all day long. This because its noise emissions surpass the new ceilings stipulated by Brussels’ authorities. 

Steven Polmans heads Brussels Airport Cargo  -  source: BRU
Steven Polmans heads Brussels Airport Cargo - source: BRU

No impact so far
"Noise and night restrictions have already had an impact on our business for the last 15 years," says Steven Polmans, head of Brussels Airport Cargo. "In the past, when night limitations were imposed, we lost several airlines and routes and although this new announcement is not yet having an impact on our business, we will probably feel this if this becomes reality."

Political moves
Supported by Brussels Airport Company, the local mayors of the Flemish boroughs bordering the airport and the airlines, the Flemish Transport minister Ben Weyts has invoked a conflict of interests. 
As a result, the abolition of the tolerance regime will be postponed till 1 March. According to Steven, BAC is convinced that a political solution to this problem will be found. “Should (village) politics prove to be unable to resolve it and opt for a game of bid raising, we may be the one to suffer. In that case, risks are high that flying B747-400s to and from BRU without getting fined, will be impossible. All our new clients acquired over the last few years are flying B777Fs and A330Fs, for which there is no risk at all. So, even if the impact is big, we will not yet be wiped off the map,” Mr Polmans states.

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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