Brussels airport symbolically restarts operations

The first passenger flight since the March 22 attacks on Brussels Zanventem Airport (BRU) took off from the facility early in the afternoon of April 3, marking the symbolic restart of operations.

A Brussels Airlines Airbus A320 adorned with a livery that honors René Magritte, one of the greatest Belgian artists, was chosen to be the first plane to carry passengers from the airport. The Magritte A320 departed BRU at approximately 1:40 p.m. Brussels time, bound for Faro (FAO) in Portugal.

Brussels Airlines Magritte plane and emergency workers
Pool photo provided by Brussels Airport
The first passenger flight was given a salute of honor by the emergency services during a low-key reopening ceremony that was held in the presence of the country’s minister of mobility and its minister of defense. The flight’s departure was an emotional moment for the entire airport community, as it “[S]ymbolized a new start [as well as] the energy, solidarity and commitment of all airport staff,” airport officials said in a statement.

During the past 12 days, thousands of airport employees worked tirelessly to make the restart possible, officials added.

“Today we show our strength, show that we have risen again, that we will not allow ourselves to be beaten,” Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport Company, said. “It is the start of a new beginning, even if the is still so much work to be done to return things to a normal situation, to the extent that it will ever again be normal.”

“The attack has struck at the heart of everybody. But it is important to pick up the thread,” Marc Descheekmaecker, chairman of the Board of Directors of Brussels Airport Company, added.

Brussels Airport is country’s the second largest economic generator, providing 20,000 jobs as well as connections to the rest of the world that allow Belgian companies to develop and grow.

Following Sunday's extremely limited service, the number of departing flights will be gradually increased over the next several days. Incoming passenger flights will also return to BRU in a limited number.

Departing passengers will be use temporary facilities for check-in. Those facilities, which were constructed following the attack, leads to the screening platform in the Connector Building. From there, passengers will follow normal routing. Arriving passengers will follow the usual routing. Passengers will collect their luggage from the reclaim area and leave via the arrival hall which was only slightly damaged by the attacks and has since been repaired, airport officials said.

The airport is asking passengers to check in via their airlines' web sites if possible and print their reservation, ticket or boarding pass before coming to the airport. It also advises passengers to "travel light" and to arrive at the airport at least two hours before their scheduled departure time.

Although the temporary facilities were constructed quickly and the airport declared itself "operationally ready" to resume service March 31, concerns raised by Brussels police delayed the resumption of service.

Law enforcement officers were concerned with newly redesigned security measures at the airport and held a brief strike over those concerns that the security measures developed in the aftermath of the bombing were not stringent enough. Officers wanted metal detectors, body scanners and x-ray machines positioned so that passengers could be examined before entering the airport terminal.

Airport officials believed that would simply shift the location of the risk without reducing it in a meaningful way, but ultimately agreed to the police union’s demands for passengers to be checked before entering the terminal. According to BBC reports, the leader of the country’s largest police union says an agreement reached over the impasse provides for “systematic” checks of passengers and luggage entering the area.

The temporary measures put into place and tested earlier in the week will only be capable of handling approximately 20 percent of the airport’s usual passenger volume. Feist has said previously it will take months before the airport would be able to reopen fully.

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