Brussels Airport reopens with three flights

BRUSSELS • A Brussels Airlines flight to the Portuguese city of Faro became the first plane yesterday to take off from Brussels Airport since its departure hall was wrecked in Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suicide attacks 12 days ago.

In an emotional ceremony at the airport, tearful employees and government officials marked the departure with a minute's silence and a round of applause.

On the tarmac, fire engines and police vehicles lined up on either side of the aircraft to form a guard of honour for the plane.

"We're back," said Brussels Airport chief executive Arnaud Feist.

The passengers on board were the first to undergo the airport's strict new security regime after the coordinated March 22 attacks, which also struck a Brussels metro station, and killed 32 people.

Passengers for the first three flights that were part of the airport's symbolic reopening yesterday were asked to arrive three hours early and by car only.

They were ushered into large white tents outside the terminal serving as a makeshift check-in facility, where they passed through metal detectors and had their bags screened. Heavily armed police and soldiers manned the access roads to the airport and were widely deployed throughout the temporary zone as well.

The number of flights will be stepped up gradually in coming days, although the airport will be able to work at only 20 per cent capacity at best using the temporary facilities, handling 800 to 1,000 passengers an hour. It will take months for the blast-damaged departure hall to be repaired, the airport operator has said.

Meanwhile, Belgian police made a series of arrests of right-wing and anti-racist protesters in Brussels on Saturday, and riot squads engaged in a tense confrontation with local youths in the district of Molenbeek.

The stand-off grew out of plans by a far-right group to hold a demonstration in Molenbeek, a largely Muslim neighbourhood where a number of the militants who staged attacks in Paris had been based.

An anti-racist group had called for a counter-demonstration.

Both were banned by the local authorities, fearful of a repeat of last Sunday's disturbance, when police fired water cannon to break up around 450 rowdy protesters.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'Brussels Airport reopens with three flights'. Print Edition | Subscribe