Brussels Airport Reopens After Attack, But The Recovery Process Is Far From Over
In an important sign of recovery, the Brussels airport reopened on Sunday for three passenger flights. Using a temporary structure for the departures, the flights headed to Faro, Portugal; Turin, Italy; and Athens, Greece, less than two weeks after two suicide bombers attacked the airport in a coordinated effort inspired by ISIS. The airport will continue to service more and more flights as the structure and the city recuperate from the deadly attacks, but it probably won't return to its full operating capacity until this summer.
On March 22, two explosions occurred at the airport, while another explosion occurred at a subway station near the center of Belgium's capital city. The attacks killed more than 30 people and left hundreds of others wounded. Belgian police have pursued several suspects and have arrested a number of people allegedly connected to another pending attack in France. Belgium and France have worked closely together in pursuit of potential ISIS sympathizers and accomplices since at least November, when suicide bombers and gunmen carried out a string of deadly attacks around Paris, killing 130 people.
The Brussels airport, where at least 14 people were killed in the recent attacks, had remained closed since the tragedy. On Saturday, the airport's CEO, Arnaud Feit, lauded the airport's ability to reopen so soon, calling the reopening "a sign of our collective strength at Brussels Airport." More flights were planned for Monday.
The temporary structures in use at the airport are intended to process 800 departing passengers an hour, which is just 20 percent of the airport's normal operating capacity. The airport will likely reach this reduced capacity in the coming days, and Feit hopes that the airport will return to its original level of operation by June or July. This timeline would help the airport handle the busy summer travel season.
Also on Saturday, Delta, the world's largest airline by passenger count, announced that it would suspend one of its two routes to Brussels from the U.S. until March 2017. The airline has operated flights to Brussels from both Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and New York's JFK International Airport. During the suspension, Delta won't fly to Brussels from Atlanta, the location of its headquarters and its busiest hub. The suspension is a result of the uncertainty around the full reopening of the Brussels airport and reduced demand, according to Delta.
Elsewhere in Brussels, a path to recovery is also becoming clearer. The Maelbeek metro station, the one struck by the third suicide bomber, remains closed, but trains have reportedly started to pass through the station without stopping. In a public square a few miles away, a shrine has developed in a symbolic way. It has begun to overflow with flowers, candles, flags, and other mementos, as people from the city and around the world pay their respects and show their support for Brussels.
The reopening of the Brussels airport is perhaps the most notable step forward that the city has made since it became the scene of a terrible tragedy 12 days earlier. Although the recovery process will take many more months, at least in terms of repairing physical infrastructure, the news from Belgium's capital is a welcome step in the right direction. As an important diplomatic center of Europe, it's hopefully a step in the right direction for the entire coalition that has formed to defeat ISIS.