Carriers shun Brussels amid robbery fears

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Up to 16 European carriers are preparing to stop transporting valuable cargo shipments through Brussels National Airport citing a lack of confidence in security measures at the Belgian hub.

Airlines have been demanding improved protection following a spate of armed robberies at Brussels, the latest of which occurred in early April when a gun-toting gang attacked a Sabena ATR 72 arriving from Luxembourg. It followed a similar attack on a Lufthansa Airbus A319 in October last year during which a cargo of diamonds was stolen.

Brussels is an important transit point for gems destined for Antwerp, one of the world’s major centres for the diamond industry. The ferocity of the latest attacks has alarmed carriers and prompted the Association of European Airlines to insist that the Belgian Government urgently review the situation – warning that a boycott could be imposed if action is not taken to improve security.

“It is not an official AEA action,” says a spokesman for the association. “But a number of airlines have decided to stop transporting valuables through Brussels.”

He says that an internal AEA survey has shown that 13 carriers are immediately prepared to participate in the action: Aer Lingus, Air France, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, BMI British Midland, Croatia Airlines, JAT, Finnair, KLM, Sabena, SAS, Swissair and Turkish Airlines.

Some of these carriers are protesting on a solidarity basis, he admits, because the amount of valuable cargo they carry through Brussels is minimal.

Three other airlines – Lufthansa, CSA Czech Airlines and Air Malta – are also expected to join the boycott, he adds, although the AEA is yet to be officially notified of their intention.

Brussels Airport operator BIAC could not be reached for comment on the airlines’ decision.