A Brussels Airlines flight to the Portuguese city of Faro became the first plane Sunday to take off from Brussels Airport since its departure hall was wrecked in Islamic State suicide attacks 12 days ago.
In an emotional ceremony at the airport, tearful employees and government officials marked the departure with a minute’s silence and a round of applause, AFP reporters saw.
On the tarmac, fire engines and police vehicles lined up on either side of the aircraft to form a guard of honour for the plane.
“We’re back,” said Brussels Airport chief executive Arnaud Fei.
The passengers on board were the first to undergo the airport’s strict new security regime after the coordinated March 22 attacks, which also struck a Brussels metro station and killed 32 people.
The key travel hub has been closed since two men blew themselves up in the departure hall in coordinated blasts that also struck a metro station in the Belgian capital, killing a total of 32 people.
The attacks at the heart of Europe shocked the country and many hope the airport’s reopening, albeit in a limited capacity and using a tent-like temporary check-in facility, will help turn the page on this month’s traumatic events.
Brussels Airport chief executive Arnaud Feist on Saturday said the partial resumption of services would start with three “symbolic passenger flights” to Faro, Athens and Turin.
The number of flights will be stepped up gradually in coming days, although the airport will only be able to work at 20 percent capacity at best using the temporary facilities, handling 800 to 1,000 passengers an hour.
It will take months for the blast-damaged departure hall to be repaired, the airport operator has said.