European airlines halt Brussels cargo

In reaction to recent armed robberies on commercial aircraft, including jewelry and diamonds, twelve European airlines have halted all transport of valuable goods to and from Brussels International Airport, Europe’s largest airline association said Friday, the Associated Press reported.

Large European carriers, including British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, and Belgian carrier Sabena have all stopped shipping valuable cargo such as diamonds and banknotes to the airport out of concern that security is below standard, the AP reported.

“We find it very troublesome,” said Rene Fennes, from the Association of European Airlines, which represents 29 European air carriers, Reuters reported.

The move comes after four robbery attempts in the past six years, with two holdups in the last 12 months when machine-gun toting gangs robbed planes on the tarmac.

The 12 airlines decided to temporarily halt all valuable shipments to Brussels on July 1 until a “substantial improvement” in airport security is made, Fennes said.

The AEA sent two letters to Belgian Transport Minister Isabelle Durant, expressing their concern over how armed robberies were able to take place on the airport tarmac in an area which is supposed to be restricted.

The Belgian government said it had started a security assessment, the results of which are to be presented at the end of the month.

Authorities took action after the latest assault on a Sabena airplane in early April, when masked and armed robbers stole an undisclosed amount of valuables including money and jewelry from the parked plane.

In a similar heist last October, robbers made away with about $160 million in diamonds and other goods from the cargo hold of a Lufthansa jet.

No one was hurt in either robbery.

The AEA is asking for stricter controls on access and improved checks on security badges to cargo areas.

Transport officials said they were trying to do their best to protect the cargo area which receives most shipments of rough diamonds bound for the port city of Antwerp, which handles 80%of world trade in rough diamonds and controls 50% of trade in the cut gems.

“This is a major market for diamonds,” Fennes said. “You have to apply security measures to your level of threat.”