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Study of the impacts on the environment with regard to noise pollution around Brussels-National Airport

Following the decision of the Brussels Court of First Instance proceedings, of 19 July 2017, R.G. 16/4222/A, Envisa was commissioned by the Belgian Federal Public Service (FPS) Mobility and Transport, to conduct a fully independent scientific study into noise impact and practice arising from activities and operations at Brussels Airport (BRU).

Extract from Court Decision: “It is pronounced taking into account the litigation proceedings, which in recent years, have become repetitive, carried by the administrative authorities responsible for the environment protection and various associations (as in the present case) but also the people living nearby the airport and those living under the air routes. The inventory of documents drawn up by the Belgian State refers to 18 decisions of courts (judicial courts) delivered between 2004 and 2016, taking into account that this list does not mention all the proceedings of which the Dutch courts have been seized, nor the judgement of the Brussels Court of Appeal of 31 March 2017, nor the present proceedings.

The whole situation requires that an impact study is carried out to scientifically, independently and transparently outline the current activity of Brussels National Airport (from an overall perspective) in light of the application of all the laws and regulations and the aeronautic rules and procedures applicable (safety measures, measures restricting operation, aviation routes and their conditions of use, wind standards, etc.) with regard to the noise generated.[…]”

Based on the Call for Tender and the proposal made by Envisa, the study was divided into 3 stages, a preliminary chapter which was an internal planning document and two public chapters, Chapter 1 which focused on understanding the situation on Brussels-National, its practises and the rules that were applied, and Chapter 2 in which were reported extensive “position statements” of all stakeholders were captured and proposals for improvements were put forward. based on the situation at Brussels-National and also at other airports.

To understand the Brussels-National problem, it is important to understand how Belgium is governed. According to the Article 1 of the Belgian constitution: “Belgium is a Federal State which is made up of Communities and Regions”. Several bodies (the Federal State, the Regions and the Communities) thus are equal in law and share the powers. This absence of a hierarchy and sharing of powers between the Federal State, the Regions and the Communities constitutes the basis of Belgian federalism. In particular, environmental matters are dealt with by the Regions.

In 1995, the Province of Brabant was split into three areas: Flemish Brabant, which became a part of the region of Flanders; Walloon Brabant, which became part of the region of Wallonia; and the Brussels-Capital Region, which became a third region. Political tensions based on language and culture are however just as evident today with a clear polarisation between French-speaking Walloons and the predominantly French-speaking Brussels-Capital Region against the Dutch-speaking Flemish.  These two fundamentally different ethos play a significant role in today’s difficulties in finding agreement to the noise impact generated by a (perceived) “Flemish” airport and largely “inflicted” on French speaking areas.

In addition to political tensions, the lack of urban planning during the last decades has led to population growing around the airport, leading to many more people being impacted by noise from aircraft, and leaving very few options for air routes into and out of the airport avoiding populations.

The geographical placement of the airport is also unfortunate, being only 15 kms from the city centre. Indeed, BRU would not have been sited where it is in the modern era – but when it was developed back in the 1950s (from a war time airfield), aircraft numbers were much lower, people had a different attitude to aircraft and flight, aircraft performance and procedures were totally different.

To understand all these issues and the global situation around BRU, Envisa organised many meetings with many different stakeholders, to gather reactions and feelings about the noise impacts on the population. From the Brussels Airport Company itself, the Air Navigation Service Provider (skeyes) to local communities, along with airlines and governmental bodies, more than 50 meetings took place, leading to the publication of a most complete and transparent study.

An inventory of all the operational practises at BRU, for both Departure and Arrival procedures, flight patterns, Preferential Runway Systems (PRS) was made and operations at other airports were also examined to see where best practices from elsewhere could possibly be implemented at Brussels.

The requirements of the study also mandated that independently produced noise contours maps should be published. One year of radar based data (provided by skeyes) was used to develop the detailed noise maps.

Full details of the project can be found in the public reports published on the FPS website:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

(FR and NL versions are also available on the same site)