World

Brussels airport partially reopens after deadly departure hall blasts

Scaled-back flight service resumed Sunday morning at the Brussels airport, which was closed after suicide bombers struck 12 days ago.

1st of 3 scheduled passenger flights departs, airport should be up to 20% of its capacity by Monday

A new highly secure temporary check-in area was put to use on Sunday for passengers departing from the Brussels airport in Zaventem, on its reopening day, nearly two weeks after the attacks by suicide bombers. (Benoit Doppagne/AFP/Getty Images)

In what officials acknowledge is a symbolic gesture, the first of three scheduled passenger flights took off from Brussels Airport on Sunday after a 12-day shutdown caused by a deadly bombing attack.

A Brussels Airlines flight to Faro, Portugal departed in the early afternoon, local time. The airline will follow that with a second flight to Athens later in the afternoon and a third flight to Turin, Italy in the early evening. 

Arnaud Feist, the CEO of Brussels Airport Co., said the flights were "a sign of hope" and a demonstration of "shared will" that even partial passenger service could resume so soon following "the darkest days in the history of aviation in Belgium."

The airport has been closed since two devastating suicide bombings on March 22 in its main terminal and one in a Brussels subway train killed 32 victims and wounded 270. The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group.

An arrivals and departures board is seen behind blown-out windows at the Brussels airport a day after two bombs went off inside the terminal. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press, Pool)

Feist said Belgium's biggest airport should be back at around 20 per cent of capacity on Monday and able to process 800 passengers an hour. Speaking at a news conference Saturday, he hoped that full service at the airport could be restored by the end of June or the beginning of July in time for the summer vacation season.

Prior to the attacks, the key European aviation hub usually handled about 600 flights a day. It served 1.5 million passengers in February.

New security measures have been ordered at the airport to minimize the chances of any repeat attacks.

Tent set up for security checks

Police on Sunday were conducting spot checks of vehicles before they arrive, and a large white tent was set up outside the terminal to screen IDs and travel documents before allowing anyone to enter the building. A drop-off parking area outside the terminal has been closed.

The bombers entered the check-in area with suitcases packed with explosives and nails, and the resulting blasts collapsed the ceiling and shattered windows in addition to killing 16 people.

The attacks have prompted a wider discussion among aviation authorities in many countries over whether to impose routine security checks at the entry to airport terminals

Until the terminal can be fully repaired, Feist said departing passengers will first enter a temporary structure erected on the tarmac, then go to a specially built check-in area.

There will be no access by rail or public transport to the airport for the foreseeable future, he said.

Delta, meanwhile, said it was suspending service between Atlanta and Brussels until March 2017 due to the continued uncertainty surrounding the airport's re-opening and weakening demand. It still plans to resume service between New York's John F. Kennedy Airport and Brussels once the Brussels Airport provides clearance.

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