At least 70% of flights from Antwerp International Airport (ANR) in 2022 were domestic, according to information published by a Belgian regional political party. 

Groen, meaning ‘Green’ in Dutch, is the main environmentally focused political party in the Flemish (the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium) parliament. It released data showing 30,000 domestic flights from ANR last year, including a high number of circular flights that both started and ended in Antwerp. 

Groen’s co-chair Nadia Naji said: “More than 30,000 times the same plane took off and landed in our small country. Belgium is handkerchief-size. It is completely insane that you would fly from Antwerp to Brussels, Charleroi or Ostend by plane or just fly a circle above Antwerp for fun.”

Internal travel is a hot topic in Belgian – in June, federal mobility minister Georges Gilkinet proposed a ban on “flea hop” flights. 

While the opposition to short-hop flights is largely environmental, Groen also pointed to the state subsidies received by several Flemish airports, which the party claims would have run into bankruptcy without the government help. 

Antwerp, Ostend-Bruges and Kortrijk-Wevelgem were all kept open at the end of last year, despite official reports condemning the airports as unprofitable.

In a statement, Naji and Groen’s Antwerp chair Bogdan Vanden Berghe said: “It is completely irrational that the Flemish government is pumping millions of euros of taxpayers’ money into a loss-making, superfluous airport for air travel within its own borders. 

“The Flemish government is letting our tax money fly through the air. Literally. The subsidy tap must be closed.”

But Antwerp International Airport defended the figures, explaining that many circular flights were in fact trainee pilots and flight schools. 

In a statement, an ANR spokesperson said: “Our pilot training courses are also in line with the vision of the Flemish government. We provide the pilots of the future. There are half a dozen pilot schools in Antwerp, and we have the necessary equipment, such as navigation systems and simulators, to train them.”

“The pilots in training simply have to learn how to land and take off,” as aviation economist Wouter Dewulf stated to the Belga news agency.