The public enquiry for the renewal of Brussels Airport's environmental permit is underway, involving an environmental impact assessment

The present environmental permit for Brussels Airport runs until July 8, 2024. This environmental impact assessment (EIA) shows that the airport's noise impact will fall in the coming years despite the predicted growth in passengers and cargo: by 2032, the number of potentially highly impacted people will decrease by 12% and it is expected that 63% of flights will then be operated with the most modern noise-efficient aircraft. Brussels Airport will also take additional measures: there will be a new engine test run site, additional noise barriers to reduce ground noise nuisance and research into possible measures for nitrogen deposition in specific nature areas. The EIA confirms that Brussels Airport can grow in terms of passengers and cargo in the coming years while reducing its noise impact on the environment. 

Environmental permit renewal

Brussels Airport always strives to strike a balance between its economic role and the impact of its activities on the environment. 

The airport has taken many measures in recent years to reduce its environmental impact. As a result, the number of potentially significantly impacted residents has already fallen by 57% since 2000. Through highly differentiated rates, airlines are encouraged to use modern and quieter aircraft. Since April 2023, they have paid up to 20 times less for the quietest and most energy-efficient aircraft, with nitrogen emissions also factored in. Furthermore, Brussels Airport is committed to quieter landing techniques, single-engine taxiing and the electrification of ground handling equipment.  

The renewal of Brussels Airport's permit is about continuing airport operations within the current infrastructure and rules. In its renewal application, the airport does not request any expansion of the runway infrastructure, for example, nor any additional night slots. However, in the interest of the Belgian economy, the airport does expect to be allowed to grow in passenger numbers and cargo volumes in line with the national and European economy.  

After submitting the application for the new permit in July, and providing additional information in October, the public enquiry has now started. The application file also contains the environmental impact assessment (EIA) prepared by independent experts certified by the government.  

Environmental impact assessment

Besides calculating the current environmental impact (based on pre-COVID 2019), the EIA also examined a realistic future scenario within the existing infrastructure. This future scenario assumes an evolution to 32 million passengers and 1 million tonnes of flown cargo in 2032, in line with expected economic growth, with the number of aircraft movements remaining more or less stable compared to 2019 and still 26% lower than in 2000. This growth can be achieved within the current number of night slots, which was reduced by 36% to the current 16,000 in 2009.  

In terms of noise, the EIA shows that the number of potentially highly impacted people will fall by 12% compared to 2019 despite the expected population growth around the airport. This is mainly due to further fleet renewal, with 63% of flights expected to be operated by the most modern and noise-efficient aircraft (compared with 31% today), and by using modern landing techniques that are quieter and emit less CO2.  

In terms of air quality and emissions from airport activities, the expected growth has a slight impact on certain pollutants, but emissions will remain below the threshold of the applicable air quality standards. Brussels Airport and its partners are working to restrict these further. For instance, the advanced differentiation in airport charges with a nitrogen component since April 2023 and the electrification of ground handling equipment will have a positive effect on this. CO2 emissions will decrease by bringing the airport operator's own emissions (Scope 1 and 2) to 0 by 2030, thanks to new fossil-free heating systems, among other things, but CO2 emissions from aircraft operations will also fall through further fleet renewal and the use of biofuels.  

The EIA shows that the airport contributes to nitrogen deposition in some nearby natural areas. This is not only due to airport operations, with other sources such as road traffic also contributing. This especially applies to areas located along busy traffic axes such as the E19. The Government of Flanders' nitrogen agreement will provide a framework. Nitrogen emissions from airport operations in Flanders remain within the limit for aviation provided for in the agreement and do not stand in the way of achieving Flemish nitrogen reduction targets.  

Other eco measures

Brussels Airport's other sustainability measures include differentiated airport charges, silent landings, aircraft stands equipped with power outlets allowing aircraft to turn off their auxiliary power unit, electrification of ground handling equipment, commitment to shift to alternative modes of transport to and from the airport and plans to bring airport operator emissions to zero by 2030. By 2026, 5% of aviation fuel at the airport should be sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).


Noise barriers

To further reduce the impact of ground noise, Brussels Airport will deploy a new engine test run site with noise barrier. Engine test runs happen about 270 times a year on average. Today, Brussels Airport already imposes that engine test runs can only be conducted between 7am and 10pm. Thanks to the new engine test run site with noise barrier, noise nuisance for local residents will decrease significantly, the airport said. The engine test run site should be operational by 2027 at the latest. 

Moreover, additional noise barriers will also be considered. There are already a number of noise barriers around the airport, and certain buildings also shield noise for people living nearby. The EIA has identified two zones for additional noise barriers that could have a positive impact in terms of ground noise. Research for this will start in 2024 with a feasibility study. 

In the EIA, experts recommend consulting with the owners and managers of Natura 2000 sites (a network of nature protection areas across the European Union) in the vicinity and investigating mitigation measures. For example, strengthening the forest edge in certain nature reserves can have a positive impact on nitrogen deposition, among other things. Brussels Airport will consult wildlife managers on what role it can play in this.  

The airport has taken many measures in recent years to reduce its environmental impact
The airport has taken many measures in recent years to reduce its environmental impact Brussels Airport