Brussels Airport re-opens to passengers

Brussels Airport has re-opened to a thin stream of passengers, 12 days after suicide bombers destroyed its departure hall and killed 16 people.

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The airport had not handled passenger flights since two suspected Islamist militants carried out the attacks. Those bombs and a separate one on a metro train in the capital killed 32 people, excluding the three bombers.

The first of three scheduled flights set for Sunday was due to depart for Faro in Portugal at 1.40pm local time, with only about 60-70 passengers. Planes were also to go to Turin and Athens later in the day, with three return flights set for the evening.

The first passengers for nearly two weeks fed into a vast temporary marquee housing security controls and check-in facilities.

Arnaud Feist, the airport’s chief executive, said Sunday would be an emotional day for many airport staff, but described the partial re-opening as a sign of hope.

On Monday the airport will serve a far wider range of destinations, including one plane also due to fly to New York and two more to cities in Cameroon, Gambia and Senegal.

Many flights have been rerouted to Belgium’s regional airports or other nearby hubs such as Amsterdam and Paris, with high-speed trains to and from Brussels packed.

Brussels Airport has warned passengers to arrive three hours before their flights due to increased security and to arrive by car. Normal train and bus services were not running.

Special cameras were being set up to read number plates, there would be random checks of vehicles and the drop-off zone would not be accessible.

Passengers and their baggage would be checked on arrival and patrols of armed police and military would be increased.

The airport is one of the largest in Europe, handling 23.5 million passengers per year. It links the Belgian capital, headquarters city of the European Union and NATO, with 226 destinations worldwide through 77 airlines.

With its temporary check-in zone, it will only be able to handle some 800 departing passengers or about five to six flights per hour, around 20 per cent of previous capacity.

The airport says it aims to return to maximum capacity before the start of summer holidays at the end of June or early July, with some check-in desks restored in the departure hall, followed by a full re-opening of that space.

Brussels Airlines, Belgium’s largest carrier and 45 per cent owned by Germany’s Lufthansa, has estimated the closure of its Brussels hub was costing it five million euros ($A7.42 million) a day.

The city’s association of hotel operators pointed to the closed airport as one of the main reasons for a more than 50 per cent drop in overnight stays in the week following the bombings.