How Farmers Keep Brussels Airport Open In The Depths Of Winter

Unlike most international airports with dedicated ground staff to help keep the runways and taxiways clear of snow and ice during the winter, Brussels Airport (BRU) relies on local farmers to help keep the airport open. While there might not be as much air traffic as there was before the pandemic, Brussels Airport plays a vital role in the shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to all corners of the globe.

114 farmers help keep Brussels Airport open during the winter. Photo: Getty Images

Brussels Airport is a major hub for German international courier DHL and is designated as the main distribution center for vaccines traveling in and out of Europe. For this reason, it is vitally important that during the ongoing coronavirus crisis that the airport remains open. Despite the snowstorm over the weekend that caused dozens of cancelations in the nearby Netherlands, Brussels Airport remained open thanks to local farmers.

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114 farmers help keep the airport open

In the fields surrounding Brussels Airport, nothing is growing in the winter as the ground is too hard to work. With Belgian farmers having nothing to do, a group sprang up in the Boerenbond Belge (Belgian Farmers Union) called the “Werkers” (Workers).

Experienced in driving large machinery, the group approached the airport to offer their services. A team of 114 farmers now helps keep the airport open during the winter by driving airport snow and ice removing vehicles.

Comprised of three teams of 38 men and women, they are on call and only turn up at the airport when needed. When dealing with frost and hail, all 38 are not needed and will only work as a full team when it is actively snowing.

The arrangement suits both parties

While writing about the snow clearing farmers, the Brussels Times quotes an interview carried out by Hectares, a Belgian agricultural magazine.

“I was working at the Zellik auction, and it was quiet there during the winter months,” Joris De Masseneer, who farms at Mollem just north of Brussels, explained to Hectares.

“Then I was accepted to take part in the winter operation at Brussels Airport. An extra income that was more than welcome as a starting farmer. Now I am on my ninth winter working there,” he said.

Brussels Airlines Airport Getty
Both the farmers and the airport like the arrangement.Photo: Getty Images

The system suits both the farmers and the airport as the airport does not have to hire full-time workers, and as for the farmers, it gives them extra income during their quiet time of year.

The farmers get paid while on standby

The farmers are on standby 24/7 and are paid a fee even if they are not working to keep the airport open. The airport providers the specialist equipment to keep the runways and taxiways clear of snow and ice, and while it is not the type of vehicles the farmers are used to, they are all trained to use it.

Brussels Airport Vaccine
Keeping Brussels Airport open is vital to the supply of COVID-19 vaccines. Photo: Brussels Airport

Since the agreement came about ten years ago, the Werkers now also offer their services for clearing vegetation at the side of roadways and removing brush at the forests’ sides.

What do you think about how Brussels Airport uses farmers for snow removal, and do you think it is something other airports could look at doing? Please tell us what you think in the comments.