Lydia Peeters, the mobility minister for Belgium’s Flanders region, is under fire from campaigners and Green politicians for flying between Brussels and Antwerp — less than 50 kilometers apart.
The minister on Tuesday tagged along on a promotional flight run by private jet company ASL Group, which is launching regular flights from Antwerp and Brussels from the summer.
Peeters said she had been invited by both Marcel Buelens, CEO of Antwerp and Ostend airports, and ASL Group entrepreneur Philippe Bodson to discuss post-coronavirus support measures for regional airports.
But the move has unleashed a storm of protest. “It can’t get crazier than this: a minister for mobility who takes a plane for 40 kilometers as a support measure (?) for one private entrepreneur,” Mathias Bienstman, policy coordinator for environmental group Bond Beter Leefmilieu, said on Twitter.
Green politicians said the move was particularly ill-timed as Peeters is campaigning to get people to cycle more, and other countries are looking into curbing short-haul flights. The trip would have taken about 40 minutes by train.
In reaction Thursday, Peeters stressed that regional airports are of economic importance for the region and that business flights are key for the “economic recovery of our economy, our business and our regional airports, after corona.”
But the minister said she also understood the criticism. “Of course the aviation sector must also take initiatives to become more sustainable,” Peeters said, and acknowledged it would have been sufficient to be present at the press conference at the airport — rather than taking the flight.
Bond Beter Leefmilieu called for Belgium’s Court of Auditors to screen the “societal costs and benefits” of the regional airports before they get government support. The airports had €17 million revenue between 2015-2017 but received €32 million in subsidies, according to the NGO.