At a time when the amalgamation between Brussels Airlines and Eurowings is an option being considered by the Lufthansa Group, there could be a new poster airline for the Belgian nation. Imaginatively named ‘Air Belgium’ is a new long-haul carrier that hopes to start operations within the next month – between Brussels South/Charleroi and Hong Kong.
The brand was reborn in 2016, having also been used as a leisure airline in the ’80s and ’90s. This time, it is designed to be a full-service carrier, offering long-haul flights out of what is currently a Ryanair dominated airport. Brussels South Charleroi airport is actually located nearly 70km away from the centre of Brussels and its main purpose is currently to accommodate the majority of Ryanair’s flights to Belgium, along with other low-cost carriers such as Wizz Air and Pegasus. At present, they offer no long haul or premium flights. To accommodate Air Belgium, the airport will be making some important changes to its terminal, and says it will be ‘pulling out all the stops to welcome every passenger in optimal circumstances’. Specifically, the airport will:
- Create a premium terminal, to meet the needs of Business and Premium Class travellers, which will offer a car to plane transit time of just 20 minutes.
- Offer a Business Lounge, which will ‘offer extensive comfort options’
However, it is worth remembering that construction on these projects will only be finished by May 2019 – so business customers on the first Air Belgium flight will have to use the low cost terminal, in addition to travelling 70km out of Brussels.
They intend to operate a fleet of four Airbus A340-300 aircraft, all from Finnair – who are retiring the inefficient, unprofitable aircraft in favour for the Airbus A350 XWB.
The airline believes they will receive the first A340 (adorned with the national colours of Belgium) at some point during this month, with the ambitious goal of launching these flights between Belgium and Hong Kong from late March. I find Air Belgium’s business model particularly interesting. Recently, most new long-haul airline ventures have focused on the low-cost sector of the market – but Air Belgium will retain similar cabins to Finnair, offering three cabin classes. Economy class will be in the standard 2-4-2 configuration.
Premium Economy will be offered (something that Brussels Airlines does not presently offer it’s customers) in a 2-3-2 configuration.
Business Class will offer lie-flat seats, on par with other major airlines across Europe, alternating between 1-2-1 and 2-2-2 in a staggered set-up.
Ultimately, start-up airlines find it notoriously difficult to be sustainable. Although, more recently, airlines like Cobalt – the CAPA start-up airline of the year 2017 – have been successful and they too have big ambitions for the future. Crucially, Air Belgium will offer a national brand, with a clear “Belgian” identity and competitive onboard products and this might just give them the home advantage.