• Tom Jordan

Air Belgium announces first African route; mulls expansion to USA

Yesterday, Air Belgium, Belgium's newest long-haul airline, announced it would begin operating to Port Louis, Mauritius, by the end of 2020. This would be the airline's first destination in Africa. It also hinted at plans for a possible expansion to serve destinations in the USA.

An Air Belgium A340 departs London Heathrow operating on behalf of British Airways. Photo by Anselm Ranta | AeroNewsX

Air Belgium was established in 2016 by Niky Terzakis, who planned the airline as a way of providing direct links between Belgium and Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Beijing, Wuhan and Xi'an, using Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL) as a hub, rather than the main Brussels Zaventem Airport (BRU) in order to keep operating costs down. The airline was due to launch in October 2017 with flights to Hong Kong, using ex Finnair Airbus A340-300s. However, delays in acquiring an Air Operator's Certificate from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) pushed the airline's launch out more than six months. With much anticipation, Air Belgium's first flight to Hong Kong departed on the 3rd June 2018.

Air Belgium was also quickly successful in carving out a niche, operating as an ACMI (Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance and Insurance) airline using its fleet of four Airbus A340-300s to cover for 787 Dreamliners of LOT Polish Airlines and British Airways, as well as operating flights for Air France and Surinam Airways to provide extra capacity for busy summer schedules. On top of this, Air Belgium also expanded with flights to Pointe a Pitre in Guadeloupe and Fort du France, Martinique in the Caribbean taking off in December 2019.

The coronavirus crisis has also appeared to not have crushed Air Belgium's long-haul ambitions at all with the airline yesterday announcing it would begin flights from Brussels to Port Louis, Mauritius in mid-December 2020, with the exact start date not yet disclosed. The airline will serve the African island nation with 2 weekly flights, but this time not from its Brussels Charleroi Airport hub and instead using the main Brussels Zaventem Airport. The airline stressed that even though the new route would be launched from Zaventem "this in no way diminishes our desire to continue our development in Charleroi."

On top of this announcement, Air Belgium also expressed its renewed ambitions to launch direct flights from Belgium to the United States of America, as well as the Dutch Antilles islands also located in the Caribbean in 2021. No further details were given by the airline about what destinations or airports in the USA and Dutch Antilles would be served. However, Air Belgium has previously shown interest in flying to Miami, so this destination could be considered highly likely.

Air Belgium's founder Niky Terzakis has also noted today that the airline posted healthy earnings with an EBIT of 5.6 million Euro, as well as a revenue total of 62.5 million Euro, with Terzakis stating these earnings leave the airline in a strong position to outpace the coronavirus travel bans without furloughing any members of its workforce due to a new market opening for repatriation and cargo flights.

The airline's current flights to Martinique and Guadeloupe which were launched prior to the coronavirus crisis and lockdowns are scheduled to recommence on July 15th 2020. This would be with an upgraded experience as Air Belgium has used the aircrafts' downtime to install Wi-fi onboard its Airbus A340s.

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