Report Forum 2040
Thematic session on the economic impact of the Strategic Vision 2040 and landside developments
The fourth session of Forum 2040 was an opportunity for further discussions on the potential impact of the Strategic Vision 2040 proposed by Brussels Airport Company. First, this final thematic session focused on the economic importance of air transport and airport activities to the entire Belgian economy. Secondly, this fourth session also addressed the part of Vision 2040 covering "landside" developments (Intermodal hub, Airport Business District, Cargo).
By way of introduction, the chairman first announced that he had taken note of the various remarks sent in by participants following the circulation of the report on the session of 22 November. He reported one participant’s remark that a lot of attention had been devoted to the possible impacts of Vision 2040 on the municipalities located to the east of Brussels Airport and too little, in the participant’s view, on the municipality of Zaventem. He also mentioned another participant’s comment about several other members finding that little attention had been paid to the topic of the quality of life around the airport.
Next, Piet Demunter, Director Strategic Development at Brussels Airport Company, gave the airport's reaction to the various constructive suggestions made during the 22 November session.
After Mr Demunter had given his answers, three experts presented their studies:
- Saskia Vennix (National Bank of Belgium) to explain and quantify the economic importance of air transport and airport activities in Belgium.
- Michael Stanton-Geddes (Airports Council International Europe) to talk about the economic impact of airports.
- Björn Hassert (Brussels Airport Company) to detail the planned developments in Vision 2040 for the landside part and the cargo and logistics area at Brussels Airport.
Presentation by the National Bank of Belgium
Saskia Vennix, of the National Bank of Belgium (NBB), presented the results of her study on the economic importance of air transport and airport activities in Belgium. This helped to better understand the direct and indirect effects of Brussels Airport and other Belgian airports on the country’s economy. Based on the annual accounts filed with the Central Balance Sheet Office in 2015, the NBB study came to the following conclusions:
- The added value generated by Belgian air transport and airport activities as a whole increased by more than 15% between 2013 and 2015.
- Jobs created by air transport and airport activities also recorded growth during the same period (+4.9%), particularly in cargo activities.
- Brussels Airport accounts for almost 80% of the added value and more than 75% of jobs created by airport activities in Belgium.
- Brussels Airport accounts for 1.4% of GDP and 1.5% of employment in the Flemish Region.
Following Ms Vennix's presentation, participants submitted the following comments and questions:
- One participant asked Ms Vennix whether the Brussels Airport Company's claim that 60,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created at Brussels Airport by 2040 was credible. Ms Vennix was unable to confirm or refute that forecast. Björn Hassert, of Brussels Airport Company, pointed out that the forecasts contained in Vision 2040 were based on the growth/employment ratios observed in the past as well as on the long-term expected growth in air traffic. But it was an extrapolation.
- Another participant pointed out that, using NBB's figures for the 7 years between 2009 and 2015 rather than the 3-year period between 2013 and 2015, led to completely different conclusions, namely a 10% decrease in direct and indirect jobs and an increase in airport traffic of 32%. This participant interpreted these figures to mean that the growth of the airport had a multiplier effect on direct and indirect employment which would not be as high as Brussels Airport Company claimed. Ms Vennix replied that it was not correct to compare the figures for 2009-2012 with those for 2013-2015, as NBB had refined their methodology since then, notably to better measure the indirect effects.
- One participant asked whether the NBB study had taken account of the effects of robotisation and automation. Ms Vennix said that it had, adding that she did not have a crystal ball to predict with certainty what the future held.
- One participant said that one could argue for a long time over the figures for the airport’s economic impact. But she said that this impact was very high in practice. She invited the other participants to come and see for themselves how important the connectivity offered by Brussels Airport was in attracting additional investments in the country from companies such as Pfizer and Caterpillar.
- One participant asked about the impact of airport activities on the Brussels economy. Ms Vennix replied that this impact had yet to be calculated, but that NBB could do so in future.
Presentation by ACI Europe
Michael Stanton-Geddes, of Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe), the association of all major European airports, then explained how ACI Europe measured the economic impact of airports. According to the methodology presented by Mr Stanton-Geddes, this impact could be classified into four main categories: direct impact, indirect impact, induced impact and catalytic impact. The catalytic impact of an airport, which is four times its direct impact, measures the way in which airports facilitate the activity and productivity of other sectors in the economy, notably by increasing tourism, trade and the number of foreign direct investments.
In its presentation, ACI Europe made the following observations:
- A 10% increase in a country's air connectivity led to a 0.5% increase in the country’s GDP per capita.
- Adding up the four impacts (direct, indirect, induced and catalytic), airport activities generated more than 12.3 million jobs in Europe, as well as €674.5 billion of GDP and 4.1% of European GDP.
- For Belgium, ACI Europe assessed the economic impact of airports at 171,700 jobs, €14.7 billion of GDP and 3.8% of domestic GDP.
Following the presentation by Mr Stanton-Geddes, participants submitted the following comments and questions:
- One participant asked why there was a difference between the figures given by NBB and those given by ACI Europe. Ms Vennix and Mr Stanton-Geddes answered that the results of their two studies did not actually diverge much, but that they had to be different because they were not based on the same methodologies.
- Another participant asked whether ACI Europe could also give an indication of the expected evolution of CO2 emissions from air traffic. Mr Stanton-Geddes replied that this issue lies outside his competence. He added that if the question was why aircraft CO2 emissions were not included in overall CO2 emissions, that was clearly an issue that was beyond the scope of the Forum 2040 discussions.
- One participant pointed out that the figures presented by ACI Europe for Belgium were below the European average. He therefore asked if the Belgian airports were underperforming. Mr Stanton-Geddes replied that they were not, and that an explanation should be sought in other areas of the Belgian economy.
Presentation by Brussels Airport Company on landside developments
Björn Hassert of Brussels Airport Company (BAC) then went into detail on the parts of Vision 2040 that had not yet been explained to Forum participants, i.e. the planned landside developments. Mr Hassert explained in particular the projects of the intermodal hub and the Airport Business District, and set out the plans to redevelop the airport’s cargo and logistics area.
Following Mr Hassert’s presentation, participants submitted the following comments and questions:
- The chairman asked why companies such as Deloitte and KPMG, whose business was not linked primarily to airport activities, had chosen a location at Brussels Airport. Mr Hassert replied that those companies were keen on that location because it offered them some unique facilities, notably the possibility of more easily organising meetings with people from abroad.
- One participant argued that instead of building new office buildings at the airport, it would make more sense to improve transportation to the existing empty office buildings nearby. Mr Hassert replied that BAC had no plans to compete with existing business parks.
- Another participant said that the intermodal hub was a good project and asked whether BAC had any data about where passengers passing through Brussels Airport were coming from and going to. Mr Hassert replied that it did not, but that other organisations probably had these data.
- One participant argued that Brussels Airport should focus on certain niche markets, particularly the language business, which was an area in which Belgium had a great deal of expertise.
- One participant felt that if the plan was to make Brussels Airport into a "town", there was also a need to think about improving the quality of the housing in some neighbouring municipalities, since a large number of airport workers live there.
At the end of this fourth and final thematic session, the chairman drew some initial conclusions.
He first of all recalled that the 2040 Forum was an initiative aimed at engaging in a dialogue on the 2040 Strategic Vision presented by Brussels Airport Company (which was indeed a vision and not yet a concrete plan) in a critical but constructive spirit.
He took this to involve four elements:
- Firstly, to give Brussels Airport Company the opportunity to explain its vision, the bases of their studies, the concepts used, and the potential impacts, whether positive or negative, micro or macro.
- Secondly, to listen to all the views on how that impact could be controlled and managed.
- Thirdly, to enhance this vision by eliciting ideas that could mitigate the impact of the airport’s developing activities, and addressing certain wishes and objections of the various parties involved.
- Finally, to instruct the chairman to forward the resulting ideas and points of view to the airport’s management so that they could take them into account when implementing the strategic vision.
The chairman then considered whether these goals had been achieved.
He felt that the presentations of the experts and the explanations of the vision had made it possible to quantify and contextualise the vision. While underlining the openness and transparency shown by Brussels Airport, he also noted the clear desire of many participants to obtain even more figures and to expand or supplement certain studies. He also noted the frustration of some participants about the methodology used to carry out some of the studies, but pointed out that Brussels Airport, like the experts, used international standards to conduct the studies. Even so, he acknowledged that these standards might seem out of date to some, even if there was a consensus among the legislator, and international and national institutions.
The chairman was also pleased that a wide variety of views had been expressed in the Forum, whether regarding medical, political or economic aspects, or remarks concerning the quality of life for residents. But he added that dialogue was not a sum of monologues. He felt that participants did enter into a proper dialogue on certain points, whereas on others, he concluded that it was unfortunately only an exchange of monologues. He also stressed that this Forum has tried to debate on substantive issues while putting aside any pure political issues. According to him, we have more or less managed to achieve this goal.
With regard to the emergence of new ideas to mitigate the impact of the evolution of the airport’s activities, the chairman assessed this as a mixed success. He said that very concrete suggestions had been made on certain points, such as mobility, ground noise and air quality. On the other hand, regarding the impact in terms of aircraft noise and options A and B, the chairman felt that constructive suggestions had been fewer and less specific, which was no doubt because they were technically more complicated subjects.
The chairman concluded with some thoughts on the substance:
- He emphasised that many participants had recognised the importance of the airport as a key springboard for the economic development of Belgium. Brussels Airport was undeniably an important player with a broad impact, whether in terms of tourism, exports, the international role played by Brussels, etc.
- He also recalled that when Piet Demunter of Brussels Airport Company asked the question "do you share Brussels Airport's vision of fostering connectivity?” the vast majority of participants answered yes. He thought this was an important aspect.
On the other hand, the chairman wished to highlight three concerns that came up in many discussions:
- The uncertainty related to the announcement of this Vision. It was a vision rather than a specific plan, but it created a certain amount of uncertainty, especially in the neighbouring municipalities.
- The issue of growth. Was it really necessary to choose option A or B? Was it not possible to optimise the infrastructure and operations model to combine growth with limitation of the impact on regional planning?
- The issue of the quality of life for residents, especially because of night flights and flights early in the morning and because of the frequencies of flights.
The chairman concluded by saying that he would forward the suggestions and proposals of the 2040 Forum to Brussels Airport Company and that it would be for BAC to report on their intended follow-up.