Europe

Passenger flights to resume Sunday in Brussels: Airport CEO

 

A partial, symbolic airline service will begin Sunday at Brussels Airport after a 12-day shutdown of passenger service caused by a deadly bombing attack, the airport's chief executive said Saturday.

Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Co., said the Brussels Airlines flights to Athens, Turin in Italy and Faro in Portugal, the first of which he said should take off around 2 p.m. local time were chiefly symbolic.

Effective Monday, Belgium's biggest airport should be back at around 20 percent of capacity and able to process 800 passengers an hour.

It has been closed since devastating suicide bombings in the airport's main terminal and a Brussels subway train killed 32 people and wounded 270 on March 22.

Speaking at a joint news conference, Feist called it "a sign of hope" and a demonstration of "shared will" that even partial passenger service could resume so soon following what he called "the darkest days in the history of aviation in Belgium."

He said he was expecting the formal go-ahead from the Belgian government later Saturday.

The March 22 attacks, in which three suicide bombers also died, were claimed by the Islamic State group. To minimize the chances of a repeat, Belgian Federal Police spokesman Michael Jonniaux said new security measures have been ordered at the airport, including spot checks of vehicles before they arrive, the closing of a drop-off parking area outside the terminal, and the screening of all people, their ID and travel documents and baggage before they are allowed to enter the facility.

The bombers had been able to enter the airport's check-in area with suitcases packed with high explosives and nails, and the resulting blasts collapsed the ceiling, shattered windows and caused great damage.

Until the terminal can be fully repaired, Feist said departing passengers will first enter a temporary structure erected on the tarmac, then go to a specially built area for check-in.

There will be no access by rail or public transport to the airport for the foreseeable future, he said.

Brussels Airport, which usually handled about 600 flights a day, served about 1.5 million people in February, the month preceding the attack. Feist said he hopes full service can be restored by the end of June or beginning of July in time for the summer vacation season.