Brussels airport eyes Sunday reopening as govt, police agree security deal
The Belgian government reached an accord Friday with police on introducing tighter security at Brussels Airport after the March 22 suicide attacks, with a government source saying the transport hub could reopen from Sunday.
"There is an agreement," Vincent Gilles, head of the SLFP police union, told AFP after hours-long talks, adding that the government and the airport operator had given in to the main demand for "systematic checks" of passengers and their luggage before going through customs.
The next step is for the government to give the formal go-ahead for the reopening, he said.
"We hope that the airport can reopen Sunday morning," a government source told AFP.
The operator of the airport, whose departure hall was wrecked in the blasts 10 days ago, had said Thursday it was "technically ready" to resume partial services after testing new, temporary check-in facilities.
But no flights were announced as police unions held up the planned reopening, threatening to go on strike unless stricter checks were imposed.
Complaining about lax security in the past they proposed using metal detectors to check all visitors before they enter the airport zone.
It was not immediately clear if the agreed new security checks would take place outside the temporary departure hall, something the airport operator earlier warned would create long queues that could be another target for attackers.
When Zaventem airport does reopen, it will only be working at 20 percent capacity, the operator has warned, handling 800 to 1,000 passengers an hour. Chief executive Arnaud Feist has said it could take months to return to normal.
The airport's spokeswoman Florence Muls, speaking to AFP before the deal with police was announced, said flights would resume on Sunday at the earliest.
"Once we have a formal agreement on the security measures, approved by the interior ministry, we can start calling employees and carriers can contact their passengers, this will take some time," she said.
Brussels Airport, which claims to contribute some three billion euros ($3.4 billion) annually to the Belgian economy, has not released any figures on the economic cost of the attacks, but its top carrier Brussels Airlines has said it was losing five million euros daily.
With 260 companies on-site employing some 20,000 staff overall, the airport is one of Belgium's largest employers.
© 2016 AFP