6 January 2004
BRUSSELS – An expansion plan by freight and courier company DHL which would create 10,000 jobs in Belgium was under threat Tuesday after the government insisted the company spread its operations over two Brussels airports.
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said DHL, whose hub is based at Zaventem International Airport, must split operations over two sites, Zaventem and the regional airport of Bierset, so as to minimise noise pollution caused by night flights, a subject which has dogged the so-called “violet” coalition since its formation.
“We are surprised. The solution of two sites is not operationally possible for our company. We want to increase our volume of activity at Brussels airport,” DHL’s commercial director Xavier de Buck told the national daily La Libre Belgique.
“We have already invested EUR 1.2 billion to upgrade our fleet. We’re prepared to invest several more million and are convinced that with these efforts, we will be able to increase the number of flights out of Zaventem while maintaining an equilibrium between the economy and the environment,” he continued.
DHL argues that operating out of one site rather than two would decrease expenditure on extra personnel and avoid the cost and problems associated with a commute between two sites.
DHL’s expansion is planned as a two-tier operation in 2007 and 2012 when thousands of extra night shift jobs would be created in the areas of sorting and loading.
Although the Deutche Post-owned company would be boosting Belgium’s GDP by between EUR 1.3 billion and EUR 1.5 billion, DHL’s request of allowing cargo aircraft to operate out of Zaventem at whatever hour it pleases for a period of 30 years could prove too big a pill to swallow for the government.
With regional elections looming, coalition members are still reeling from the night flight crisis which led to the resignation of the previous government’s Environment Minister and continues to cause rifts between Flemish and Walloon parties.
Northern Brussels residents associations campaigned throughout 2003 for a fairer distribution of night flights across linguistic divides; Flemish communes arguing they were victim to an unfair volume of noise pollution.
After several changes to the Brussels night flight plan, aircraft have now been distributed all around the city of Brussels, with some permitted to cross the city itself.
The Brussels city authorities are unhappy with the plan, as are several major airlines, who have complained that safety is being compromised for the sake of a political settlement.
For now, the government remains unanimous for a cautious approach, while DHL is adamant that its newly expanded operation should operate wholly out of its Zaventem hub or face the possibility of leaving the country, ridding Belgium of much needed extra employment.
[Copyright Expatica News 2003]
Subject: Belgian news