Zaventem : Plan De Plaen

Plan De Plaen

When you’re called “De Plaen”, it’s difficult not be interested in a plan, or in planes…  As an engineer on top, I can’t resist the idea of proposing my own solution to the seemingly inextricable issue of flight routes to and from Brussels (Zaventem) airport.

It’s one of those problems where Belgium shows its worst part: entangled between regional interests, tiered apart by linguistic divide, thinking rationally is out of order.  What remains is called nimby (not in my back yard!) – or sometimes plain cynicism.

Now, if you will find herewith a proposal, it’s not by coincidence that this has been written in English – it’s a way not to write in French or Dutch and side with one of the 2 camps (talking about being non-rational !).  I have to add that this note only covers the problem of east-Brussels - not because I am not interested in the other areas, but rather because this is the only one I am knowledgeable of.

So what is the problem (in short) ?

Since years, inhabitants of East-Brussels (in a broad sense, including all communes from both Woluwe’s, Kraainem, Wezembeek, to Sterrebeek and beyond) complain that the flights over their houses are making life “unbearable” (a little exaggeration never goes amiss!).  To relieve the situation, the recent minister-in-charge has changed one of the routes so that, instead of flying over that area, planes taking off towards Brussels and turning South, do it further, flying over new areas.  Guess what?  The inhabitants there find this now “unlivable”!

They have a point, though: the new plan “Wathelet” (the name of the minister) makes planes flying over much more densely populated areas than before.  Previous plans or routes were called “Schouppe”, “Onckelinks”, “Durant”, “Anciaux”, everytime the name of the politician changing the flying plan(s)[1]

But why did the “East-Brusselers” needed to be less flown over?  Well, they also are under another flight-route, the one landing on track 01.  Planes are flying low, mostly on weekends and evenings (theoretically due to wind-direction, but not sure this is always the case).  2 flying routes, at peak times with both 1 plane every other minute, crossing over your house, everybody will understand this isn’t nice and doesn’t feel like fair burden-sharing.  Oh, by the way, the Brussels ring road passes there as well and is traffic-jammed almost 24/7.

So is there a solution ?

Actually, no, except if you want to consider moving the entire airport somewhere else – not a short term option.  Every change will shift flight routes from X to Y, and Y will complain.  Change it back, and X stands at your door.

Well, actually, yes, maybe, if you enlarge the picture – that’s my “plan De Plaen”.  The “East-Brusselers” mainly complain because of landing on 01 (previously 02) – the taking-off from 25R and its South-turn is the additional burden that makes the total over the top (the routes cross above Kraainem, somewhere between the ring road in “4 bras / 4 armen” and Stockel)

But what if you could make landing on 01 become less of a burden?  Would then the “old” (pre-Feb 2014) South-turn route be acceptable for the East-Brusselers ?  I believe yes – and I am living right under that route.

How do you manage that?

As I said, please enlarge the picture – and thank the Antwerp people for the idea.
If you have the planes going to land on 01 exactly (exactly !) following the ring road until the E40 crossing or slightly beyond, they will “only” have the people close to the ring suffering more.  But, will you say, that’s spectacularly unfair, as they already have the ring road to live with.  That’s right, so let’s take it away!  Take away its noise, take away its pollution, take away its sight.

In that area (between 4 bras / 4 armen and the Wezembeek exit), the ring road is mostly lower than the houses and streets around it.  Before 4 bras / 4 armen, the ring road crosses the forest (Soignes / Zoniënwoud), between Wezembeek and E40 the ring road is mainly driving through fields (not entirely, but we can come back on that).  So the only part really problematic is the area between Wezembeek and 4 armen / 4 bras.  Take that ring road away by putting a roof above it, as is proposed in Antwerp by “Ringland”, plant some high trees (for noise and dust capture), make it a (flown-over) park.  It’s only 3 km, so cant’ be that expensive.  Once it’s done, go back to the pre-Feb 2014 routes or adjust slightly so that the planes follow the Montgomery - 4 Bras / 4 Armen axis (straight towards the forest).

Ideal ?  No.  Some houses will still have a lot of noise to support.  But the next step is then to actually measure the noise (not the complaints, really the dB !).  If over a certain threshold, the (federal) taxpayer should pay for the noise-insulation. 

Technically achievable ?  The changes to the ring road should be doable - a study for Antwerp evaluated the costs to about 160-300 M€/km.  So you are talking 500 M€ to 1 billion.  A lot, but in the general context affordable.  For the planes, it would require shifting the flight zone to the right by a few hundred meters, then to realign to landing track 01 close to landing.  Not easy, but from what I heard within the capacities of today's pilots and planes.  This would however need to be confirmed.

In summary

1/ Move the landing route on 01 (previously 02) to right over the ring road, to be used just and only when winds dictate so,

2/ Compensate this by putting the ring road underground (by adding a roof) between exit 4 Bras / 4 Armen and Wezembeek, hence eliminating the noise, dust and pollution to these residential areas,

3/ Move taking-off route from 25R back to its pre-Feb 2014 situation (left-turn at Meiser), hence avoiding the most densely populated areas of Brussels (no flights beyond the Lambermont / Reyers / General Jacques boulevards or adjust slightly towards the forest.

Doing so :

- the inhabitants next to the ring get more flights (ouch !) when wind dictates, but get rid of the ring road noise and pollution 100% of the time, and additional green instead,

- the inhabitants in Wezembeek / Sterrebeek, as well as Stockel and Kraainem are less flown over by the landing route on 01, but get back the taking-off flights from 25R and turning South,

- the new flown-over inhabitants (Etterbeek, Auderghem) since Feb 2014 go back to the earlier situation.

- the houses that can't escape noise via these modifications get (paid for) noise insulation.


Is it all ?

If we manage that, it’s actually already pretty good.  Next steps would be to evaluate whether cargo-flights should remain in Brussels or move to an airport further away – Liège Airport is the first one that comes in mind, because it is open 24/7 and the noise-issues there have been solved already.  Economic impact (on jobs, on costs, on traffic jams…) should be evaluated, forgetting (for once, please !) about the language of the beneficiaries.  Without proper analysis, I don’t know the answer to that question.  Really.

But if the above works, then I will have no issues calling this the “plan De Plaen for planes”, and you will even be allowed to make all jokes that you want about my name – you’ll never beat all the ones I’ve heard since childhood anyway.





[1] Incidentally, this is to compare with the custom in the refinery where I was working a few years ago : a process-line only got the name of the engineer that designed it, if it was of no use…

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