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Brussels Airport 'operationally ready' to restart flights

Brussels Airport says it's waiting for "formal political approval" to restart some passenger flights, after getting the green light from other authorities. But is the hold-up coming from politicians, or worried police?

Brussels Airport Company announced in a press release on Thursday afternoon that it was close to restarting some passenger services from the Zavantem site hit by attacks claimed by the so-called "Islamic State" last week.

"Brussels Airport Company has received the go ahead from the fire services and the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) for a partial restart of passenger flights at the airport," the statement said. "However, the authorities have yet to take a formal decision on the restart date."

The airport said that the "final step for the restart" was now "formal political approval" to relaunch some passenger services, without indicating when such a decision might be taken.

It added that no passenger flights would take place between now and Friday evening, an airport spokeswoman confirmed to DW that the earliest possible start date would be Saturday, April 2, but added that the political authorization was out of the airport's hands.

Police dissatisfied with security?

On Thursday evening, however, major Belgian news outlets Le Soir and de Standaard both reported that it was the country's largest police union, ACV-Politie, blocking the restart, on security grounds.

Citing union sources, both papers said that the police's principle concern was to ensure systematic checks of both passengers and luggage at the entrance of the makeshift departure area, rather than performing the checking within the structure. The sources described the condition as non-negotiable, "take it, or leave it."

Damage in departure lounge

On March 22, two suicide bombers hit the airport's departure hall just before 8 a.m. local time (0700 UTC/GMT), while a third blew himself up at the Maelbeek metro station in Brussels city center. Another bomb later exploded at the airport, after bomb disposal experts were on the scene; nobody was injured in that blast.

Describing the airport as therefore "technically ready" to restart some flights, the statement explained how a provisional infrastructure had been erected in recent days, capable of dealing with 800 passengers per hour or 2.5 million per year. "That's about 20 percent of the normal capacity at Brussels Airport."

Some cargo flights have already restarted at the airport.

This Tuesday, a week after the bombing claimed by the so-called "Islamic State,"

the airport ran tests to ascertain whether it was ready to gradually restart operations,

under heavy security. The exercises mainly involved tests of the new, temporary check-in facilities.

"The last few days, Brussels Airport Company, public fire services, the BCAA, Federal Police and Defence have thoroughly been evaluating the large scale trial run," the airport said, adding that the fire service and the BCAA gave the thumbs-up on Wednesday evening.

The airport's announcement omitted to mention police at any point.

"The police will not restart their work under these conditions," Le Soir quoted their ACV-Politie union source as saying. He reportedly acknowledged that other authorities had made some concessions, but said the demand for luggage and identity checks at the entrance was dismissed as unrealistic.

Watch video 04:44

Belgium: Life after the terror attacks

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