[Update: Air Belgium has since announced plans to launch its first flight on April 30, 2018. Tickets are now on sale.]
Startup airline Air Belgium has delayed its launch until the second-half of April 2018, with its first route set to be a non-stop service to Hong Kong.
The carrier had originally been slated to launch this month, flying out of Brussels South Charleroi Airport using Airbus A340 aircraft formerly operated by Finnair.
“We have incurred delays ourselves in preparation and readiness back in Belgium,” CEO Niky Terzakis told Business Traveller Asia-Pacific. “We’re just going through the final bits and processes with the local authorities here, which have been very amicable.”
A schedule for the four-times-weekly Hong Kong route also has been announced. The airline will fly out of Brussels South Charleroi Airport on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 1400, arriving in Hong Kong the following morning at 0730 following a 12-hour journey.
The return leg will then depart Hong Kong International Airport on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 1130 and land back at Brussels South at 1830 the same day.
Air Belgium has previously stated that it aims to expand into the Chinese market, and Terzakis has said there are six destinations the airline aims to add before the end of summer 2018.
“This is a spread between large cities and secondary cities,” Terzakis said. “I’m cautious in listing those now, as the sequence of these routes depends on the slots, so it may be a bit premature for me to announce those just yet.”
So far, Air Belgium has four A340s in its fleet configured in three classes – business, premium economy and economy. These aircraft have significant range, however due to high fuel consumption have generally fallen out of favour with airlines, especially with the advent of more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the A350-900 – Airbus’s successor to the A340 – and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
“The A340 offers high payload and long range. Yes it is a four-engine aircraft, but these engines are relatively inexpensive to maintain. These newer aircraft are very costly – we’re a relatively small airline, and we’re cautious financially.
“These A340s are interim aircraft – we are discussing about the newer airplanes, but they would not be delivered before at least 2019. The fuel price will indeed steer the retirement of the A340.”
Air Belgium is not the only airline launching new routes between Brussels and Greater China, however. Hainan Airlines began flights to the city from Shanghai in October last year, and earlier this week launched another service to the city, from Shenzhen.
Meanwhile Cathay Pacific is set to launch non-stop flights to Brussels from Hong Kong this Sunday, March 25.
“Our unique selling point is definitely the fact that we’re offering significantly lower fares compared to the traditional carriers,” Terzakis added. “I would say that our fares would be about 25 to 30 per cent lower than what you see in the market today for a non-stop service.”
Unlike these other services however, Air Belgium will operate out of the lesser-known Brussels South Charleroi Airport, which Terzakis says will enable it to tap into markets in northern France and Luxembourg owing to its location.
Air Belgium aims to develop a number of new premium facilities at the airport, which itself is undergoing developments and building a new premium terminal, which the airline will move into once it is completed in April 2019.