Startup airline Air Belgium continues to have difficulties getting off the ground with the launch date of its inaugural route, between Brussels and Hong Kong, now set to take off on June 3, 2018.
The carrier had previously planned to launch on April 30 – having already pushed back its original late-March start date – and tickets for the new flights from April 30 onwards have been on sale since the beginning of the month. However, issues with securing the necessary Russian overfly rights as well as with the global distribution system (GDS) have forced the carrier to reschedule its inaugural service.
In a statement released today, CEO Niky Terzakis said: “At this date and despite all efforts of our teams and the Belgian authorities, we are still expecting to receive the overflight permit from the Russian Authorities, knowing that overflying through the Russian airspace is unavoidable.
“Air Belgium did secure all required permits well in advance. However, the Russian permit has not yet been granted. In addition to the uncertainty created by the above, the complicated and delayed GDS implementation has also prevented Chinese tourist groups from being directed to our flights.”
Taking a route that doesn’t fly over Russian airspace would add about an hour and 30 minutes to the flight time, according to Air Belgium, making alternate routes unfeasible. Responding to a query by Business Traveller, Terzakis said:“We have definitely considered alternative flight routes, but unfortunately flying through Russian airspace was unavoidable for various reasons.”
The airline has informed affected passengers and is presenting them with alternative travel options, including seats on flights operated by other carriers, deferred travel dates and financial compensation, or full reimbursement.
“This was a hard call to make considering the market expectations, but we take the protection of our travellers’ interests to heart,” added Terzakis. “In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to obtain the overflight permit as fast as possible and to support tour operators in making the necessary arrangements in time.”
Air Belgium has billed itself as an airline offering full-service flight options but at prices about 25 to 30 per cent lower than what is currently available on the market for a non-stop service.
The airline bases itself at the lesser-known Brussels South Charleroi Airport, which is currently undergoing expansion works including a new terminal building.
Currently, the airline has only announced Hong Kong as a destination, though Terzakis has said the carrier has six destinations on the Chinese mainland that it aims to launch services to before the end of this summer.
Air Belgium’s fleet currently comprises four Airbus A340 aircraft, formerly operated by Finnair, which it configures in a three-class set up comprising business class, premium economy and economy cabins.
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’s new service comes amid a very recent rise in competition on the route, most notably in the form of Cathay Pacific’s new non-stop service between Hong Kong and Brussels Airport that took off last month.
However, mainland Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines also launched its own new route to Brussels last month from its hub in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.