Brussels Airport disrupted by air traffic control dispute

Passengers arrive at provisional check-in counters at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, near Brussels, Belgium, on April 4, 2016.
Passengers arrive at provisional check-in counters at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, near Brussels, Belgium, on April 4, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSELS(Reuters) - Three weeks after being struck by Islamic State suicide bombers, Brussels Airport was forced to close again briefly on Tuesday (April 12) due to industrial action by Belgian air traffic controllers.

An hour after announcing the problems, the airport operator said in a tweet that limited flights were resuming and an online indicator board showed some arrivals and departures.

The airport, one of Europe's busiest, had reopened on April 3 with very limited capacity, restricted by temporary structures and tight security after bombs destroyed the departure hall.

Other Belgian airports had taken on many connections but at least some of these, including nearby Charleroi, were affected by the controllers' action, which is part of a months-long dispute over employment conditions.

"A limited number of flights will be possible," Brussels Airport said in a statement an hour after announcing a shutdown.

Transport authorities said police had shut down roads around the airport, which has been the only means of access for passengers arriving or departing as the railway station has remained closed since the attacks.

Along with a suicide bombing on the city's metro, the bombers killed 32 people. Police have arrested several local men accused of plotting the attacks.

Brussels Airport said police were checking a suspicious vehicle nearby and had blocked the access roads.

Belgocontrol, the agency which handles Belgian air space, said it was seeking a solution with the trade union. Labour leaders asked staff to call in sick on Tuesday due to disagreements over a proposed dispute settlement, including a rise in the minimum retirement age.

Brussels Airlines, the main Belgian carrier whose flights have accounted for the bulk of those operating from Brussels this month, said on its website: "As from 17:00 local time Brussels (1500 GMT), flight disruptions are to be expected.

"At this moment the situation is very unclear, we continuously monitor the situation and will inform you about any flight cancellation as soon as we have more news. Our first priority is to limit the impact on our flight operations and to get our guests as quickly as possible to their destination."

At Charleroi airport, also known as Brussels South, spokesman Vincent Grassa said: "We are indeed affected by the strike ... There can be landings but no takeoffs."