> the new concourse A to open sometimes next month or the summer at the latest.
The opening of Terminal A is announced for May 15th. In the departure hall -where you take the escalators to Pizza Hut and the other restaurants upstairs- there is this huge BIAC advertisement (10m x 5m) announcing the opening of the new Terminal. The ad shows a cup of coffee and on top of the long swirling coffee vapour you see a small jet. Nice Ad.
> I think that the new concourse will accomodate charter flights.
Terminal A is destined for all flights originating from & departing for Schengen-countries. This may include charter flights as well.
> They were testing the new facilities by announcing boarding on a fake Virgin Express flight
BIAC has contracted Interim Agency "Randstad Interim" to provide 1600 dummy passengers, to test the facilities before the actual opening of the terminal on May 15th. There is a test session every Tuesday and Thursday and each time BIAC wants to check various aspects of the facilities, in cooperation with the airlines.
This week I have been participating to two of these test sessions, together with 80 other people (housewives, students, pensioneers, anybody,...). All participants get an airport badge and a boarding pass for a fictional flight (AZ, LH, VEX, SN, ...). They just have to walk -like future passengers will- from the check-in zone, through customs and finally to the gate in the new terminal A. It's a pretty long walk, but fortunately there are escalators to bring you two levels down, moving carpets to move you through a long tunnel and again escalators to bring you two levels up again.
For now BIAC is testing with about 4 gates (A45, A47, A49, A51) and each time Globeground, Alitalia, SNBA and VEX are sending their check-in staff to see if everything works fine.
> and giving fake tickets to some employee at the airport
Actually, I was boarding this "fake" Virgin Express flight. My boarding pass for flight T0S 3002 was on the name of Bond / James. During "the job" I was approached by a RTL-TVi crew. They interviewed me (in French) and asked me about my impressions about the new facilities. I said the new infrastructure looked great and that it will be very valuable for Brussels and Belgium. I dind't see the RTL-TVi program, but perhaps you actually saw me on TV (an ordinary fellow with a khaki-green jacket and a blue backpack).
> the boarding passes still had to be treated manually.
The VEX team did the boarding manually for some reason, however the other machines worked properly.
> everything seemed to be OK.
There is still a lot of work to be done to finish up everything. There are still hundreds of workers working at all corners of the site. It may end up as a race against time to have everything ready and spotless by May 15th.
I had some interesting talks with several BIAC people. One of them pointed me to to the state of the art speakers that had been installed for every pair of gates. These speakers are about 4 meters tall by 20 cm and they provide an excellent sound quality.
Another fancy introduction are the big flat-screen monitors (1,20 meter by 50 cm), which display the flight information. The BIAC person didn't want to tell me the exact price, but I understood it was up to 120.000 EUR for just one of these screens. I guess there will be a few dozens of these screens around, therefore => $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. The total price tag of the new infrastructure would be roughly about 250.000.000 EUR (10 billion BEF). The collapse of Sabena and therefore the loss of income for BIAC must have been painful thing to digest.
The architects of Terminal A have used a lot of glass. This means that passengers can clearly see their aircraft before boarding. You have a view on Terminal B on the south side and on Runway 25R on the north side. Terminal A creates new opportunities for (travelling) spotters. You can see the planes at Brucargo, the LH Technics facilities, the military site, the ATC tower, runway 02-20,... You can see the planes rotate within a very close distance, but you hardly hear anything. It's great to have all these big windows, but I'm just wondering how often BIAC will be able to clean them. Furthermore because of the curved shape of the windows, there is an extra difficulty for cleaning.
By the way, somewhere at the ongoing exposition on the history of Brussels Airport, I read that Aviapartner employee & Journalist (?) Frans Van Humbeek will present a new book on the Brussels Airport and on Belgian aviation, right at the opening of Terminal A on May 15th.
PS: This morning I saw EC commissioner Romani Prodi entering the airport facilities through a side entrance of the '58 building. He must be a very frequent flyer out of Brussels. I saw him passing by in a grey Mercedes (with a green-red CD plate), while he was concentrated on some papers. Later in the evening I saw him on the news, presiding over some kind of conference somewhere in Europe. I guess flying and travelling is not so much fun any more for these kind of people.