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Aviation: Flying visit to Brussels

Brussels National has had its ups and downs since the turn of the millennium, with a terrorist attack and the bankruptcy of the national carrier causing substantial drops in traffic. Nevertheless it has rebounded, as Tyler McDowell found when he paid a quick visit.

Brussels National Airport, also known as Zaventem, has been the main international air travel hub for Belgium since it opened in 1930.

At the dawn of the 2000s however, there were changes to the established order of aviation as the European Union. Deregulation in 2001 eventually caused the failure of Belgium’s national airline SABENA, which was one of the oldest names in commercial aviation. The ashes of the airline were subsequently combined with Delta Air Transport to become SN Brussels Airlines, and then a merger with Virgin Express in 2007 created a new flag carrier, Brussels Airlines.

Brussels Airlines continued to operate from Brussels Airport (BRU) with a fleet of short haul Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft, along with widebodied A330s for long-range missions. The airport’s second largest operator is now TUI Belgium, which previously flew as Jetairfly. The carrier has a fleet of Boeing 737-700, -800 and -8MAX, 767-300s, and 787-8 Dreamliners. It also uses Embraer 190s on thinner routes.

On the March 22, 2016 a terrorist attack in the check-in hall brought BRU to a halt during the busy morning peak. Thirty five people died and a further 340 people were injured. It took several months to repair and rebuild the infrastructure, but everything is now back in action and better than ever.

A terrorist attack devastated the departure hall in 2016. It has since been rebuilt.

Brussels is not as busy as some other major European hubs such as Frankfurt Main, Amsterdam Schipol, London Heathrow and Paris Charles DeGaulle. However, with the European Union being based in the city its airport is a must-serve destination for almost every major national airline on the continent. Low Cost carriers including easyJet have also muscled in on the action, while a surprising move resulted in Ryanai also establishing an operation despite also serving Brussels-South Charleroi Airport. There is an extensive route network radiating from BRU across Europe, as well as a major focus on Central Africa where Belgium had a significant presence from the 1850s through to the mid-20th century. Links to North America are also well established and benefit from Brussels Airlines and United Airlines both being members of Star Alliance, enabling the airport to offer US-EU connections in competition with other Star hubs in Zurich, Vienna and Frankfurt.


Despite the 2016 attack and the heightened security put in place as a result, the airport has established a pair of viewing platforms, known as the ‘Spotterplaast’ (Spotter Place), at the end of both runways. The southernmost of the two, close to the threshold of Runway 25L, is a €25 taxi ride from the terminal, the raised elevation provides a reasonable views over the two fences surrounding the airfield.

If you do enjoy a day at Brussels National, keep an eye out for the five Heroes of Belgium Airbus A320 aircraft painted in eccentric and colourful liveries honouring the country's culture.

Text and photos © Tyler McDowell unless stated.

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