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Brussels Zaventem Airport remains closed: Authorities fail to approve safe structures

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa Correspondent  Apr 01, 2016

Tourists and business travelers booked to the European and Belgium Capital Brussels should change plans. Visitors or residents trying to leave Brussels by air cannot do this from Brussels Zaventem International Airport. This airport remains to be closed after the recent deadly terror attack.

Reports from airline sources indicate that traffic to Europe has taken a broad hit following the attack on Brussels Airport some 11 days ago and that the trend appears to be accelerating for flights to Belgium after authorities failed on now three subsequent days to clear Zaventem for restarting operations.

Thai Airways just issued a release alerting passenger about all flights to Brussels remain cancelled and passenger booked with THAI until April 15 can change or cancel flights without cost.

While security experts and intelligence services are locked in meetings trying to find the loopholes which led to the twin bombing at Zaventem and the Brussels Metro on Tuesday last week are travelers and airlines, the latter still off the record, getting angrier by the day as Zaventem remains closed for passenger traffic.

The ongoing closure is seen as a spectacular logistics and also PR failure now, as communications channels have gone silent and in between the line of statements frustration can be sensed when airport officials two days ago already said they were ready to resume flights but it depended on Belgian authorities clearances to accomplish that.

In East Africa, Brussels Airlines flies to Entebbe and Kigali, have travel agents began to ask questions of this correspondent with specific reference to the major fire in August 2013 which burnt the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport's entire arrival section to the ground including airline operations and other offices.

'Let me ask you two things: 'How could JKIA be back in operations within two days, given that it took a while to make sure the fire was not caused by an act of terror and two, how did the Europeans let people wander into the airport terminal with bombs, while here in East Africa it is only passengers allowed to enter and they and their baggage is checked right at the door before they can get inside? I am asking this, my colleagues are asking this because it seems, and you confirmed it too when we talked, in Europe you can still walk into many airports like Frankfurt or in this case Brussels. You are allowed to accompany travelers right to the check in and there is not a single security check until you actually pass through into the secure inner area. In East Africa we have for years been subject to perimeter controls, like in Entebbe at the fence, then again as you get into the terminal and then again when you get into your departure gate. So it confuses me that in Europe, with all the terror attacks they had over the years, this has not been done.

Back to the Nairobi fire! Everyone in our industry was completely surprised when the Kenyans in the space of two days had organized tents to process immigration, customs and arrivals in general. Why would it take so long for Brussels to put in place temporary facilities? If I get you right was the airport ready two days ago already and their tweets confirm that. What is the hold up? Whose approvals or permissions are not forthcoming? Do these bureaucrats even know what damage that does to the airlines, the businesses at the airport? Maybe they should get advice from us in East Africa how to secure airports and deal with disasters because what they are doing right now is a complete failure!'.

Aviation media have since the attack on Zaventem suggested that the losses for Brussels Airlines could be as much as five million Euros a day, in terms of revenue losses and in terms of added cost to operate out of four airports instead of one - European flights take off from Liege and Antwerp while intercontinental flights take off from Frankfurt and Zurich - and yet do the Belgian authorities seem strangely ignorant to the need for speed to resume operations at Zaventem. Perhaps do individuals with their hands at the steering wheel have their own agenda and maybe ulterior motives, a disenchanting thought when all hands should be on deck and pulling the rope into the same direction.
The inaugural flight to the new destination Toronto have been postponed for a second time already to the 06th of April and flights to Washington, due to have resumed in late March, have all been cancelled too until at least 03rd April inclusive.

One things is now clear though, if Zaventem is not getting back into operations on the double will this failure by authorities to approve whatever needs approving lead to a sharp drop in travel to and through Belgium. Other airports, their sympathy period by now expired, will no doubt soon take the gloves off as they begin to fight to carve market share out of Zaventem and Belgian airlines will equally come into the cross hairs of their competitors, especially from Paris and Amsterdam based carriers.

Brussels Zaventem Airport remains closed: Authorities fail to approve safe structures

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