Brussels airport ready to reopen after attacks; date not yet decided

Brussels' international airport has been given the go-ahead to reopen following suicide bombing attacks that killed more than 30 people in the Belgian capital last week, but its operator said Thursday that no date has been set for flights to resume.

On March 22, two attackers blew themselves up in the departure hall of the Brussels Zaventem airport, while a third set off an explosion at a subway station near the city's headquarters for the European Union's main institutions.

Another device later exploded at the airport, once bomb disposal experts were on the scene. Nobody was injured in that blast.

Following the attacks, a temporary check-in area has been set up at the airport. It underwent extensive safety testing and passenger simulations earlier this week.

The fire services and the Belgian civil aviation authority gave their approval for a restart late Wednesday, the airport operator said in a statement.

"The airport is thus technically ready for a restart of passenger flights in the temporary infrastructure foreseen for check-in," it added.

The provisional infrastructure can only handle about 20 per cent of the airport's regular volume, or about 800 departing passengers per hour, the operator said.

Nothing will change for arriving passengers, it added, as the baggage reclaim and arrivals area were only slightly damaged and have since been restored.

The operator said it is now awaiting political approval for the airport to reopen, noting that there will be no passenger flights before Friday evening.

Since the attacks, the police has been on the hunt for a fugitive airport suspect who delivered the third bomb and then left. Earlier in the week, the authorities released a man due to a lack of evidence after Belgian media had identified him as the so-called "man with the hat," in reference to surveillance footage of the suspect.

Local media reported Thursday that the fingerprints of another suspect, known under a false identity, had been found at a Brussels apartment linked to the attackers. Prosecutors refused to comment on the reports.

The Belgian police appealed to Brussels residents and traders to save any video surveillance footage recording street segments or even the inside of shops, in case it could later be of use to investigators.

Meanwhile, EU aviation experts met in Amsterdam Thursday to consider new security measures in light of the Brussels attack, EU Transport Commissioner Violeta said, adding that she would raise the issue with the bloc's transport ministers at informal talks next month.

She stressed the need to make sure "we have the best safety that is possible," while adding that this needs to be "proportionate" and risk-based. Airport security is an issue for national authorities, Bulc noted.

On Wednesday, Brussels airport police had complained in an open letter about poor security at Zaventem, pointing among other things to a lack of checks on people and baggage entering the airport building.

They said they had signalled security lapses to their superiors on a daily basis ever since the security alert level was raised in Belgium.

Last update: Thu, 31/03/2016 - 18:47
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