Flights resume at Brussels Airport after attacks

The airport says it aims to return to maximum capacity before the start of summer holidays

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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.

Passengers for the first three flights that were part of the airport’s symbolic reopening on Sunday, were asked to come three hours early and by car only.

They were ushered into large white tents outside the terminal serving as a makeshift check-in facility, where they passed through metal detectors and had their bags screened.

Heavily armed police and soldiers were manning the access roads to the airport and were widely deployed throughout the temporary zone as well, AFP reporters saw.

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.