Air Belgium Is Operating Flights On Behalf Of Air France This Month

Air Belgium is a startup airline that intends to operate a fleet of 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 their business model:

  • It seems they’re going after Chinese tour groups, though I’m not sure the margins there are great
  • The A340 isn’t exactly the most fuel efficient plane, though on the plus side I assume they got the plane for cheap
  • Recently both Cathay Pacific and Hainan started flying to Brussels, so they have a lot of competition
  • Charleroi Airport isn’t convenient for most, and Air Belgium has no partnerships for connecting traffic


Air Belgium’s business class

The airline was supposed to begin flying between Brussels Charleroi and Hong Kong as of April 30, 2018, though just days before the flight was supposed to launch they postponed the inaugural until tomorrow, June 3, 2018. They gave two reasons for this delay:

  • They didn’t have overfly rights for Russian airspace, and claimed that avoiding Russian airspace wasn’t 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”

Once the route launches tomorrow, Air Belgium will operate 2x weekly flights for June, 3x weekly flights as of July, and 4x weekly flights as of October. The airline also says that they intend to launch their first route to mainland China in the coming months.

What’s interesting is that Air Belgium already has two Airbus A340-300s in their fleet, yet for the next month they’ll only be operating a twice weekly flight.

So what will they be doing with the extra capacity? Through June 30, 2018, Air France will be leasing an Air Belgium A340-300 to operate their daily ~3,400 mile flight between Paris and Libreville.

That flight operates with the following schedule:

AF926 Paris to Libreville departing 1:35PM arriving 7:30PM
AF977 Libreville to Paris departing 10:20PM arriving 6:30AM (+1 day)

Air France usually uses a 777 on the route with reverse herringbone seats in business class. So while Air Belgium has a fully flat business class product, it’s definitely a downgrade compared to the seats Air France has.


Air France’s business class

It’s logical enough for Air Belgium to lease out one of their planes to another airline, given that they have extra capacity right now. From the beginning I’ve questioned the logic of Air Belgium’s business model. Clearly their advance bookings aren’t to the level they were expecting, given that:

  • Their flights still aren’t in the GDS, which greatly limits their potential sales
  • Not only did Air Belgium delay their launch, but they’re operating fewer frequencies over the next few months
  • If their bookings were as good as they were hoping, they would have already announced their next route, given that they have two planes

As I’ve said from the beginning, it sure seems to me like their best chance of making any money is to just lease planes out to other airlines. There’s demand for longhaul aircraft right now, given the problems going on with the 787, so presumably they could do pretty well leasing out their planes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them leasing out planes beyond just June…

Comments

  1. if they’re targeting Chinese tour groups then they’re doing it all wrong. Few enjoy the prospect of an unnecessary border crossing to reach HKG when mainland carriers are flooding EU with dirt cheap fares (on top of all the ME3 capacity).

    then there’s that weird choice of Charleroi with fantasy expectations that they could be the long haul Ryanair

  2. Also worth noting that I guess Air Belgium wasn’t bothered to retrofit the aft business class cabin on the ex-Finnair A340 for their planned premium economy cabin, so premium economy passengers on Air Belgium over the next month or so get to fly in business class seats. That’s at least according to the seatmap when doing a dummy booking on Air Belgium’s website.

  3. Indeed, premium economy passengers will get the full flat business class seat at interim, but with only 1 meal choice (Business Class has 2 meal choices).

    Staff confirmed that to me when I did a test flight with them in April.

  4. Not sure why Air France is the A340 on its Libreville flights. I flew 1-2 roundtrips every year to LBV on AF for 3 years, not ones was the plane not completely full in economy, premium economy, and business. This route is immensely popular to say the least

  5. I will look – straight up! – for this flight.

    Air France aircraft flying from Paris to West Africa fly directly over our house here in the south of France. I often look up in our garden at the four contrails of Air France’s A380 en route to Abidjan.

  6. I imagine Air Belgium will become a lessor. With no connectivity at their home base and only 2 aircraft they will find it more viable eather loaning aircraft or eventually shutting down They also don’t have the back up resources in case of disruptions with a fleet of 2 which is required to operate just one route to Hong Kong

  7. The flight for Paris/Libreville round trip with air France is expensive.
    6:30 hours of flight for 900 to 1500€ (About 1800$) the ticket.
    And now people will have a cheap plane with maybe a cheap service.
    Knowing this weekend there was a technical incident at Libreville with air france flight, passengers took finally air belgium, I wonder if Air France will compensate passengers.

  8. AB just got their 2nd incidents yesterday on this CDG LBV flight with kerozene leak and emergency landing. Cannot understand how AF can put its pax at risk this way. Obviously AB aircrafts are not on a good shape. Second technical incident within 10days!

  9. I took the flight last weekend from CDG. I thought I was flying in the 90’s. I cannot believe it! Someone must sue AF, I Will ask a partial refund of my ticket!

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