BELGIUM: Industry shock as government moves to ban night flights

Belgium's Transport Minister has announced plans to ban night flights from 2003. International courier DHL has accused the politician of bypassing its ongoing negotiations to reduce noise.

Isabelle Durant’s plan to ban flights between 1-5am at Brussels’ Zaventem airport from summer 2003 and to reduce aircraft noise during the day as well is proving so controversial that Belgium’s council of ministers will discuss it next week.

DHL, which uses Zaventem as its European hub and employs 2,200 people, has stated that it cannot conform to Mrs Durant’s plans. “We have to fly at night because our customers are asking us to have the latest possible pick up and the earliest next day delivery,” a DHL spokesperson told edie. “Customers demand this because it increases their own competitiveness.”

DHL has been in discussions with government officials, the airport authority and local residents for some years regarding aircraft noise. “We made considerable progress in 1999 towards a quota system to reduce noise levels gradually,” says DHL’s spokesperson. “We were nearly at an agreement. Then Mrs Durant took a decision unilaterally.” The DHL spokesperson declined to comment on how significant a cut in aircraft noise would have resulted from the voluntary quota system under discussion.

A component of DHL’s noise reduction plans include the investment of BEF50 billion in quieter aircraft, in this case B-757, which are already on order. The company also plans to expand secondary hubs in the UK, Italy, Germany, Spain and France while should divert air traffic from Zaventem. Increasing use of road transport at night is also forseen.

Mrs Durant is a member of Belgium’s ‘green’ party, Ecolo. Noise reduction forms part of the party’s environmental agenda. Ecolo cites studies showing that 50% of Belgians are exposed to noise levels between 55 and 65dB, with a 20% continuously exposed to levels above 65dB. “With regard to airports, Ecolo believes that increasing number of flights counteracts the [noise reduction] measures taken in aircraft design and manufacture,” states the party. “It is difficult to protect oneself from noise. For this reason preventive measure must be developed.”

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