Air Belgium Will Commence Operations In June, With A Catch…

Air Belgium is a startup airline with a unique business model. They intend to operate a fleet of used Airbus A340-300s for flights between Charleroi (outside of Brussels) and China (including the mainland and Hong Kong). The airline has business class, premium economy, and economy, and I can’t quite wrap my head around where they see upside with this business plan.

Longhaul economy fares to/from China are as low as they’ve ever been, just recently both Cathay Pacific and Hainan launched service to Brussels, and without any sort of connecting passengers, I’m not sure how they plan on filling planes, outside of extremely cheap seats that they sell through consolidators.

Air Belgium began selling tickets in early April for flights between Brussels Charleroi and Hong Kong, and the route were supposed to launch as of April 30.

I had booked my ticket on them and was really excited to see what they were like, but just a few days before the anticipated launch, Air Belgium announced that they’d be pushing back their inaugural flight from April 30 to June 3, 2018.

The reasons they gave for delaying service were as follows:

  • They don’t have overfly rights for Russian airspace, and claim that avoiding Russian airspace is not possible
  • Air Belgium isn’t yet in the GDS, meaning that they can’t make their flights visible to third parties (including tour operators and travel agencies), and as a result this has “prevented Chinese tourist groups from being directed to [their] flights”

Obviously the overfly rights for Russia were crucial, though beyond that, the flights seemed to be completely empty, so I can’t imagine how much money they would have lost operating those flights. On the plus side, they were very generous in the rebooking offer that they gave me.

I still hope to fly them shortly after they launch, and I’ve been curious to see whether they stick to their new schedule. Today the airline has issued an update regarding their operations. Specifically:

  • Air Belgium intends to stick to their June 3 launch date
  • The airline has confirmed that they’ve received overfly rights for Russia
  • The airline was initially supposed to operate 4x weekly flights, but instead will offer 2x weekly flights in June, 3x weekly flights in July, and 4x weekly flights as of October
  • Air Belgium expects to have their third plane by the end of June, and will launch their first route to mainland China in the coming months

Here’s what Air Belgium’s CEO, Niky Terzakis, had to say:

“Now that we have all the green lights, we can’t wait to welcome our first passengers between Brussels Charleroi Airport and Hong Kong. Meanwhile, we’re working hard to have the third plane ready by the end of June and are preparing the first flights to Mainland China, which are expected to launch in the coming months.”

This will be a very interesting airline to watch over the coming months and years…

Comments

  1. @ Jason — Hah, given all the problems that other airlines are having operationally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them eventually adopting a HiFly-style business model, which would be the only reason I’d give them years. I also give them a bit of extra time since they’re backed by some mysterious Chinese investors. so who knows exactly what their motivation is in all of this.

  2. No it won’t be. As they will be bankrupt in no time. Completely senseless offering with no market. (China to Brussels? O/D only with no onward connections?). A waste of time.

  3. If the market is Chinese people who want a package tour to Europe they don’t need connecting flights. Brussels is as good a place as any to launch a tour from. Why couldn’t they fill a couple of flights a week?

  4. Charleroi is at least an hour drive to Brussels. This is like other airlines calling Beauvais Paris.

  5. What about the rumour that they can’t even take off from Charleroi at full capacity (fuel + passengers) because the runway isn’t long enough?

  6. I saw the parked A340 yesterday at MUC, whatsoever it did there. I highly doubt that MUC is a very cheap parking lot, so maybe some crew training?

  7. While waiting for the russian authorisation, Air Belgium has been “working” for other airlines and did some chartered flights since they got their A340. They have actually flown 10.000 passengers as for now. That’s why one can see their aircraft in airports like MUC!

  8. “Longhaul economy fares to/from China are as low as they’ve ever been, just recently both Cathay Pacific and Hainan launched service to Brussels, and without any sort of connecting passengers, I’m not sure how they plan on filling planes, outside of extremely cheap seats that they sell through consolidators.”

    hmmm … what’s with this a.net myth that flights must have feeds at both ends to survive ? and it’s not like alliance partner feed at DOH and DME helped saved either of those flights for CX.

    it’s not exactly fair to put CX and HU in the same sentence there either. CX is merely 4x weekly, while HU is flooding BRU with roughly 12-14x weekly between PEK PVG and SZX.

    that said, i have to agree with DEBIT for once because their business plan fails every smell test of a legit one that is actually numbers and profit driven.

  9. @Debit Who in their right mind would create an REAL airline with flying planes just to launder money?!

  10. Popcorn! Wait and watch how it goes from here.

    @debit..LOL! Launderig money for whom? Trump and his cronies?, Al Kaida? Syria? or the Russians? LOL!

  11. My take on this is that it they are aiming for Chinese package holiday. This is possibly in line with the strategy of HU. If the majority of passengers are travelling as a group, with a coach tour, then avoiding major airports in Europe is a big advantage. I imagine that getting up to 300 guests with little or no English (or any other European language) from gate to coach is a challenge. Their focus seems to be building a connecting network in Asia, not Europe. In comparison, Abu Dhabi achieved 48,900 Chinese visitors in February 2018. I would still love to know what the attraction is for them there, apart from the big social media campaign. That averages to 5.5 plane loads per day using the Air Belgium config. The numbers has had an impact on the style of service provided by a number of 5 star hotels in Abu Dhabi, as it is a very different type of guest. On the other hand, it seems to be pretty much guaranteed numbers, albeit at a low yield. Does the choice of airport and the low fees offset sufficiently the extra operating costs of the A340-300? If the backers are Chinese based, it makes sense that they would be making heavy use of social media in China and the demand for travel is there.

    Belgium is a curious choice for the hub, allegedly the process for Chinese to obtain the Schengen visa is easier from Germany. Perhaps the logistics to create an airline and for a tour itinerary starting point are better from the Brussels area!

  12. How do you even get to Charleroi Airport from Brussels? I lived in Brussels and can remember passing the uncheerful Charleroi Sud many times on my way back home, but can’t remember any airport stop. Has that changed? I can’t imagine a taxi all the way to Charleroi wouldn’t eat into any savings of flying out of there.

  13. @Kirk
    Yes, even more deceitful is Qantas selling international connections to Melbourne via Sydney that end up at Avalon rather than the real airport , ie MEL at Tullamarine. All part of the Qantas shysters ‘ lame attempts to sell Jetstar tickets. This wicked trickery shows up on Matrix very often and probably catches more than a few unsuspecting travelers.
    As for this Air Belgium thing : it’s never going to work, give it 12 months and it will either be broke or ‘anschlussed’ into greater Lufthansa group.

  14. What is the easiest way to launder money? To have a little shop/restaurant etc.? That’s so 1990’s! Nowadays the “mafia” have big banks, real estate companies etc., to own an airline company is ‘nothing’ for them. I lived in such country where money laundering is still considered kind of a normal way of life for politicians and people with access to money.

    I’m not saying money laundering is one of the reasons for creating Air Belgium, but certainly it’s not one I would laugh about or would dismiss.

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