Air Belgium: The Belgian Start-Up Flying to Hong Kong

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.

Charleroi Airport at present. Not very fitting with Air Belgium’s new business model…

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.

Air Belgium’s planned livery.

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.

The Economy Class onboard.

Premium Economy will be offered (something that Brussels Airlines does not presently offer it’s customers) in a 2-3-2 configuration.

Air Belgium’s Premium Economy

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.

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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.

Wizz Expands in London Luton: Five New Routes Across Europe

Wizz Air is one of the fastest growing, and most dynamic airlines in Europe – their route network spans the entire continent, and further, with flights to Dubai, Tel Aviv and more. Although Wizz Air does operate flights from Romania to London Gatwick, their primary London gateway is Luton – currently offering 41 destinations from the airport, with a base of both Airbus A320 and Airbus A321 aircraft, of which I flew earlier this year to Warsaw.

Wizz Air’s A321 aircraft are frequented on its high capacity Europe-Luton routes.

Over the past twelve months, Wizz Air has carried more than 5.5 million passengers on its Luton routes alone, an increase of 11% compared to 2016, making them the second largest carrier at Luton airport.

This coming summer, however, Wizz will expand its footprint even further in the UK market. In 2018, Wizz will offer 6.9 million seats to 46 destinations in 20 countries, fulfilling its mantra, ‘now everyone can fly’ by providing new and exciting travel opportunities to the UK and European markets. Specifically, Wizz Air will base an additional four aircraft in London Luton, enabling them to add five new routes. These will include:

  • London-Larnaca, on a daily basis, from 30th May 2018
  • London-Tirana, three times per week, from 31st May 2018
  • London-Bratislava, on a daily basis, from 20th June 2018
  • London-Tallinn, four times per week, from 17th September 2018
  • London-Lviv, three times per week, from 18th September 2018

In addition, the new based aircraft means Wizz will be increasing frequency on many of its most popular routes, such as Tel Aviv, Pristina & Suceava.

The investment will ensure 150 new employment opportunities are created, adding to Wizz Air’s warm and dedicated team.

Owain Jones, Chief Corporate Officer at Wizz Air said this about the expansion:

“Today we once again bring more exciting news to the UK customers, again underlining Wizz Air’s commitment to the country. Our investment brings benefits to the local community by creating 150 new direct jobs, as well as stimulating more jobs market in aviation and related industries. Wizz Air’s network from Luton will expand with five new routes, to Larnaca in Cyprus, Tallinn in Estonia, Lviv in Ukraine, Bratislava in Slovakia and Tirana in Albania, creating more choice for our passengers and even more opportunities to discover Europe on WIZZ’s low-fare routes. Our friendly and dedicated team looks forward to welcoming our passengers onboard to enjoy WIZZ’s lowest fares and excellent onboard service”.

Its clear to see Wizz Air has a great commitment to the UK market, and is investing in London Luton Airport, creating 150 extra jobs as a direct result of their investment – in addition to the all important exciting new experiences and travel opportunities opened up as a result of this expansion.

Delta Downgrade: Business Class Eliminated on certain Transatlantic Routes

In the US,  competition is arising over premium ‘coast to coast’ or transcontinental services, with American’s A321T and JetBlue’s revolutionary MINT expanding constantly. It’s led to Delta and United making major changes to the way they roster their aircraft, both adding more heavily premium configured 757 aircraft to these high yielding, competitive markets such as New York to Los Angeles.

JetBlue offers 16 ‘MINT’ seats on its new Airbus A321 aircraft, designed to appeal to the premium market. Image: JetBlue

However, the catch is that these Boeing 757 aircraft were previously used on routes like Manchester-Washington D.C. for United, or London-Philadelphia for Delta; both of these were unmercifully cut in the past few years. Delta are now coming up with an inventive solution to this, which could increase profitability and retain their presence in markets across Europe.

Due to the fact Delta is flying internationally configured 757s on more domestic flights, they’ll therefore begin flying domestically configured 757s on transatlantic flights. Specifically, Delta will eliminate Business Class (instead flying domestically configured aircraft) on the following routes:

  • New York (JFK) to Shannon (Ireland)
  • New York (JFK) to Ponta Delgada (Azores)
  • New York (JFK) to Reykjavik (Iceland)

    Delta’s Domestic First Class, soon to be utilised transatlantic. Image: Delta

This means that the only premium cabin available on these flights will be the US Domestic ‘First Class’. For Delta to sell these as International Business Class, it would be unfeasible and a significant downgrade from any other competitor. Therefore, as the rollout of Premium Economy comes into force on their A350 aircraft, they will sell these seats with a Premium Economy product.

By utilising domestic aircraft on routes such as JFK-Shannon, it has perhaps helped Delta justify preserving the route.

In my opinion, this is inventive and should work for the primarily leisure orientated routes they’ve selected. Considering they currently operate a similar system on their Minneapolis-Reykjavik route, its clearly working well and its easy to see why: it allows them to deploy sought after lie-flat seats in more premium markets, such as Seattle, New York or San Francisco – whilst retaining service and presence to markets in Europe. Whether they expand this scheme to other ‘thin’ or seasonal European markets like Glasgow-New York or Paris-Pittsburgh remains to be seen.

October 2017: Route Review

October is the height of the route development season. Here is my monthly pick of this month’s best routing news.

Route Launches:

JAL – On October 29th JAL furthered relations between Japan and Britain even further when they added a morning Haneda – London flight. JL41 leaves Tokyo at 2.45am and lands at Heathrow at 6.30. The aircraft then turns around and operates back as JL42. Raj was onboard the inaugural JL42 and will be writing more about in the coming weeks. JAL operate the route with a B787-8 variant with three cabins – business, premium and economy.

Stobart Air – On Sunday, 29th October, Stobart Air launched its trio of operations from London Southend Airport. Flights will operate with Embraer 195 equipment to Dublin & Glasgow, with ATR-72 equipment operating their new Manchester sector. Read my review on Stobart’s Aer Lingus Regional offering here; I can’t wait to review their new Embraer aircraft following LondonSpotter’s positive experience on the Embraer 190. This new service is a significant step for London Southend airport, allowing customers easy access to 11 US destinations via Dublin’s US Pre-Clearance facility.

“With up to three daily services to Dublin, this route offers frequency, optimum schedules and an efficient, convenient and effortless connection to US destinations for our business and leisure passengers.’

-London Southend CEO, Glyn Jones

Air Arabia Maroc – The Moroccan division of Air Arabia launched its new Agadir base in early October. Flights were launched with the airline’s A320 aircraft to Manchester, Copenhagen, Cologne/Bonn, Dublin, Munich, Stockholm and Toulouse.

KLM – At the start of the winter season, KLM’s new flights to Mumbai and San Jose (Costa Rica) were launched. Both services operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipment. It represents KLM’s second Indian destination, and solidifies the Dutch airline’s position as a market leader in Latin America.

Route Announcements:

Primera Air – The new airline on the low-cost Transatlantic scene gained the necessary permissions from the Canadian authorities to operate Toronto-European Union routes. Soon after, they announced services from Stansted and Birmingham to Toronto Pearson, operating with newly delivered A321Neo equipment. Both services will depart from the UK on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Primera hope to expand their Transatlantic operations further, with the delivery of new Boeing 737 MAX-9 aircraft. Image: Primera Air

LATAM – LATAM’s Brazilian branch announced major expansion in mid-October, with new routes from Brazil’s economic centre – Sao Paulo – to Boston, Rome and Lisbon. All routes will operate with Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. More details of the new flights will be confirmed in the coming months, but these are important additions to LATAM’s European network from Brazil, which currently includes Barcelona, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Milan and Paris.

Qatar Airways – Qatar will launch thrice-weekly flights from their Middle Eastern hub in Doha to Penang. Services will operate with the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner and boast convenient connections to Europe and the US, promoting tourism in the region.

Qatar 777-300ER landing at London Heathrow. Image: @LondonSpotter

Iberia – Spain’s national carrier is ignoring the current diplomatic and constitutional crisis in the region, and ploughing ahead with further expansion out of its Madrid hub. Recently launched non-stop services to Tokyo will increase from three to five-weekly and two new destinations will be inaugurated; San Francisco and Managua. Both flights will operate with Airbus A330 aircraft, featuring lie-flat beds, but its important to note that although Managua flights will be direct, they will not be non-stop. These new services will be a tag-on to current Guatemala City flights.

Aer Lingus – The Irish national carrier will launch four-weekly flights from Dublin to Philadelphia next summer, with Boeing 757-200 aircraft leased from ASL Airlines. Aer Lingus says it will offer a total of 2.75 million seats to and from North America in summer 2018, with an additional 575 transatlantic flights compared with this summer, as part of its largest ever programme.

Aer Lingus will offer 11 destinations via its Dublin hub next summer.

British Airways – In a further move to bolster its domestic network, British Airways will expand services to Inverness from daily to ten-weekly. Its important news for the Highland communities, as the connections offered through London Heathrow are unprecedented. The airline also announced a new service to Southern Spain’s Almeria to operate on a summer-seasonal basis – with Airbus A320 aircraft.

British Airways has previously announced new long-haul destinations, including Nashville and the Seychelles. Image: @LondonSpotter

Air Transat – Birmingham has had a bad month in terms of route development. Air Transat pulled their loyal Toronto service for next year’s summer season, minutes after Primera’s new flight had been announced. With both United and Air Transat out of the Birmingham market, the airport’s managers are clearly taking a gamble on the Nordic newcomer. Whether that gamble will be worth it, remains to be seen.

TUI Airlines UK – In December 2018, TUI will expand its winter offering from the UK’s regional airports. They’ll offer a series of charters to Muscat, Dubai, Newark, Krabi & Cochi to connect holidaymakers to cruise itineraries, but will launch regular fortnightly services from Manchester and Birmingham to Malaysia’s Langkawi and the Thai capital, Bangkok operating with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The airline will also expand its Manchester-Phuket flights, to a weekly operational basis.

TUI will also operate a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner from Manchester next summer, in addition to London Gatwick. Image: Fernandez Manuel

SAS Scandinavian – SAS will launch a twice-weekly service from Stockholm Arlanda to Birmingham. After the city pair was left unserved by the void Monarch left on October 1st, SAS has stepped in offering flights on Fridays and Sundays. The airline’s Regional Manager said the new flight would cater for increased demand of those travelling for both ‘pleasure and business’.

That’s all for this month! If you want to receive our monthly newsletter and know when new articles are published then sign up below!

September 2017: Route Review

As we glide into Autumn, airlines are well and truly giving us some great excitement with route planning for next summer. Here’s my monthly pick at the most important news.

Route Launches: 

Norwegian – Yet again, Norwegian dominates the route review – with new services from London Gatwick to Denver and Seattle both launching this month. Both services are to be operated by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, and compete fiercely with BA’s current London Heathrow-Denver service and the plethora of carriers serving London Heathrow-Seattle. With Thomas Cook starting Manchester-Seattle services next May, one may ask, is the UK-Seattle market becoming oversaturated? The proof will be in the figures.

In addition, on 28th September 2017, Norwegian launched their new Gatwick-Singapore connection – the first long haul flight to be operated under the Norwegian UK subsidiary. This flight will also operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipment, and marks the entry of Norwegian into the Singaporean market.

Norwegian operates their Boeing 787-9, equipped with Premium Economy on both new routes. Image: @londonspotter

Loganair – Loganair broke free from it’s Flybe alliance – starting it’s own services on September 1st. With the new services, comes the increase of Manchester-Glasgow flights to 6 a day, and a beautiful Tartan livery. What’s more, they’ve done all that without IndyRef 2

Route Announcements: 

United – After pulling back on the UK market, United has reinstated faith with the announcement of new services from:

  • Washington D.C. to Edinburgh (marketed cleverly by Edinburgh Airport as ‘Capitol to Capital’)
  • New York Newark to Reykjavik  & Porto
  • San Francisco to Zurich

All services will be operated by Boeing 757-200 aircraft, with the exception of Boeing 787-8 operated SFO-ZRH. The new European connections will begin next summer.

Air Canada – A transatlantic revolution is taking place, and for that we can thank the Boeing 737 MAX. The MAX opens up long thin markets for airlines to operate profitably; it’s why we are seeing routes such as Belfast to Providence, and Edinburgh to Stewart. Air Canada clearly didn’t want to miss out, and has announced services between Toronto & Shannon and Montréal & Dublin. This marks a massive vote of confidence in the Irish market for the Canadian flag carrier – as they will now serve three destinations from Dublin (Vancouver, Toronto, Montréal) and are the only foreign airline to offer a transatlantic destination other than New York, from Ireland’s second airport – Shannon.

Air Canada’s 737MAX render. Image: Air Canada

Delta – For Delta this month, it’s a very mixed story.

Firstly, let’s get the bad news out of the way. Next summer, Delta will cut two destinations all together – Moscow (SVO) and Stockholm (ARN). In addition, it will end service from Philadelphia to Heathrow (already announced) and Paris, suspending service from Newark to Amsterdam.

Now, on to the exciting route development news. Among the aviation community, it is widely seen that Delta is employing a rather different strategy than the other US airlines. Instead of expanding out of hubs, they are adding flights from smaller US markets to their main hubs of Paris and Amsterdam in Europe. Whilst in August, Delta announced a new Orlando-Amsterdam service, this month they went further. Delta will start a new 767-300ER service between Indianapolis and Paris in summer 2018, which will go on sale on the 23rd September. This will be the first transatlantic connection for Indianapolis – so, unsurprisingly, the route has been supported by subsides of $5 million, Indiana Business reports. They will also launch two new routes between Los Angeles and Paris/Amsterdam with Boeing 777-200LR equipment, adding to their joint venture partner’s (Air France and KLM respectively) frequencies. Finally, and perhaps the most surprising, is between New York JFK and Ponta Delgada (Azores). This makes Delta the only US airline to serve the Azores, and gives Delta two destinations in Portugal.

Of course, there is other less significant news and frequency changes but their is not enough room to report everything here.

Virgin Atlantic –  Virgin Atlantic will be increasing it’s operation at Manchester next year. They will be adding 40,000 seats to the market, with an additional 747 base. The new 747-400 will operate four-weekly services to New York JFK and three-weekly services to Atlanta. However, both routes are served daily, with the remainder being operated by the current A330-300 aircraft.

Next year, in peak summer, Virgin will offer 35 weekly transatlantic departures from Manchester, every week.

Icelandair – Iceland’s airlines just can’t stop growing. In fact, I may have to dedicate a whole blog post to them every month! This month, they announced services from their hub to Dallas/Fort Worth. Icelandair’s first venture into Texas will come in the form of a four-weekly, Boeing 757-200 service.

There is debate as to whether such rapid growth of tourism generated by the aviation industry in Iceland is sustainable.

In other news, they also filed the schedule for their 737 MAX services, which will operate to only Birmingham in the UK.

WOW Air – Yes, you guessed it. WOW Air also announced flights to Dallas/Fort Worth. This connection will operate thrice-weekly, but with a widebody aircraft – the Airbus A330-300. Both airlines are clearly trying to upstage eachother, but I fear it could end badly for both airlines involved. On a lighter note, more competition can only be good for the passengers!

British Airways – British Airways announced in mid-September that it’s London Heathrow to Austin route would be upgraded to a Boeing 747-400, from a Boeing 787-9. That’s a massive capacity jump – particularly for the high-yielding cabins – and shows how the 787 really can open up new markets, that can then be grown into a great success.

In arguably more exciting news, British Airways is launching service to the Seychelles in March 2018. The service will operate with Boeing 787-9 aircraft, on a two weekly basis. The interesting development here is that BA will operate this flight from Heathrow, rather from primarily Leisure-based Gatwick. This is clearly to optimise connection opportunities, around Europe and Transatlantic.

British Airways is another airline dominating the route development discussion at the moment. Image: @londonspotter

Cathay Pacific – After starting the route in 2015, Cathay Pacific has now confirmed it is axing it’s Hong Kong to Dusseldorf route from March 2018.

On the contrary, it will increase its services on the Barcelona and Tel Aviv  to Hong Kong connections – both of which operate with Airbus A350 equipment.

KLM – KLM will launch new service from Amsterdam to Fortaleza in Summer 2018, on a twice-weekly basis, with Airbus A330-200 aircraft. This will mark KLM’s third gateway into Brazil, and secures KLM’s position in the Latin American market.

Emirates – Emirates announced plans this month to launch a fourth-daily Dubai-Sydney service, operating with Airbus A380-800 aircraft. It will add more and convenient connections for customers, and an additional 6.846 seats per week in capacity. This, and expansion to the Brisbane service, means the UAE national carrier will serve Australia 91 times every week.

Emirates A380 leaving London Gatwick. Photo by @londonspotter

Qatar Airways – Qatar Airways stunned everyone back in May, when they announced the intention to launch Doha to Cardiff flights. This month, they opened bookings for the new route. It will be operated on a daily basis, with Boeing 787-8 equipment. Great news for Wales & Cardiff!

Garuda Indonesia – Garuda Indonesia transferred from London Gatwick to London Heathrow some time ago. Previously, due to the strength of the runway at Jakarta, they had to make a refuelling stop in Singapore. Now, it appears that has been resolved, as Garuda Indonesia will offer non-stop Jakarta to London services from October 31st. Frequency will remain the same, but with an amended schedule, as Garuda wants   “to boost connections from the UK to Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Perth), the Far East (Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul) and China (Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai)”.

Royal Air Maroc – Before March 2017, Casablanca had never been served from Manchester before, but Royal Air Maroc came bursting onto the scene, offering a wealth of connections to Africa through their Moroccan hub. Now, they are increasing flights to 4-weekly from next summer; from a standing start, this route can widely be acknowledged as a great success.

Air France – Air France will be launching new service to Seattle and Taipei, after a hiatus from both markets. It will join KLM in the Taiwanese market and joint venture partner Delta in the Seattle market. Both services will operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, and from Paris Charles de Gaulle.