Brussels Airline Decamps After Terrorist Bomb Wrecks Main Hub

  • Brussels Airlines has set up makeshift operations abroad
  • Carrier continues emergency setup as Brussels Airport closed

Brussels Airlines NV, which lost its main airport hub after the worst terrorist attack in Belgium’s history, has decamped to four other cities to maintain service, even using buses to get people to flights at alternative airports.

After the bombing, which killed 11 at the airport, the carrier shifted some airplanes and crew to Frankfurt and Zurich, to maintain links with Africa and the U.S. Flights to European cities were moved to Antwerp and Liege, both about an hour from the capital.

Other airlines sought to keep Belgium connected, using Charleroi and Ostend. The Zaventem airport won’t reopen before Tuesday, a week after the blasts, as investigators assess damage, which included collapsed ceilings, shattered windows and destroyed check-in desks. The bombs packed with nails exploded in the departure hall, injuring more than 80.

The airport will test repair work and temporary arrangements on Tuesday before making a decision on when to re-open the terminal to passengers, even then only on a partial basis. “When this partial restart will take place is not yet decided,” according to a statement on its website.

“From the moment it reopens, we will organize part of our flights out of Brussels Airport again,” Brussels Air spokesman Geert Sciot said by e-mail.

Alternative Airports

The airline hired buses to take passengers to alternative airports. Costs tied to the attacks will amount to a double-digit million-euro amount, Sciot said.

A preliminary investigation completed Sunday showed Zaventem’s main building and a facility where hand luggage and passengers are checked in were structurally “stable,” according to a statement posted on its airport website. The airport may install temporary check-in desks.

Moving planes to other airports is a task that would normally take three or four months, while arrangements for everything from catering and cargo to ground handling and route rights were put in place.

“The challenge we face is huge,” Sciot said. “Our home base is closed, organizing the flights from other airports is very demanding,” including repositioning aircraft and crew, arranging for security, obtaining landing and takeoff slots, and reworking bookings.

Long-Haul Hubs

“Are we satisfied?” he asked. “Given the circumstances, I can say that we will never be satisfied but we do our utmost to help and assist our passengers.”

Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which owns 45 percent of Brussels Airlines, on its website listed as canceled 81 flights to and from Brussels between Sunday and March 31. The long-haul hubs Brussels is temporarily using are the main bases for the carrier’s namesake brand and its Swiss arm.

Brussels Air sent five Airbus Group SE A330 aircraft to Frankfurt and Zurich to maintain service to Africa and the U.S., and 36 such flights have operated from March 24 through Sunday. Antwerp and Liege were running at full capacity, Sciot said.

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