Star Alliance welcomes 26th member

11 Dec 2009 by Mark Caswell

Brussels Airlines became the 26th member of Star Alliance this week, at a ceremony in Brussels City Hall attended by representatives of all of the member airlines.

The event included a light and sound spectacular beamed on to the front of the city hall (click here to view a recording of the show), as well as the city’s most famous inhabitant - the diminutive Mannequin Pis statue - being dressed in a pilot’s uniform for the occasion.

Speaking at the event Brussels Airlines’ co-CEO Bernard Gustin spoke of Star as being “the Champions League of alliances”. Gustin emphasised the new routes that the carrier will bring to the Star network, including an extensive offering of 14 African destinations, a legacy from the days of Sabena, the Belgian state carrier which served many long-haul and African destinations prior to its bankruptcy in 2001.

When SN Brussels was formed in the same year, it concentrated on European and African routes, before merging with Virgin Express in 2006 and becoming Brussels Airlines. Founder Star Alliance member Lufthansa later took a 45 per cent shareholding in the carrier, leading the way for Brussels Airlines to join the alliance this week.

Today Brussels Airlines operates a two-class, three-product offering on its short-haul routes (with standard and flexible options in economy), leading Gustin to joke that the airline “should have copyrighted the concept”, with Air France launching a similar offering on its European routes last month (see online news November 12).

Gustin also held out the possibility of expansion, saying that Brussels Airlines was “looking at potential new destinations in Africa”, and that the carrier would look to “reinforce” its operations in the region before looking at any possible expansion across the Atlantic.

Gustin also pointed to the high-speed rail extension to Brussels airport which is due to open in 2012, and which will allow Amsterdam-based customers to reach the airport in just over an hour. Of course Skyteam member KLM will argue that the main section of this line (which will reach Brussels city centre next year) will conversely allow Brussels-based customers to more easily reach Amsterdam Schiphol extensive long-haul network.

  • Bmi’s representative at the inauguration was new CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, formerly CEO of Jet Airways. Talking to Business Traveller at the event he said that 2010 would be a “crucial year in ensuring that Bmi’s turnaroud materialises”, with the aim of the carrier breaking even in 2011.

Prock-Schauer said that Bmi would remain “a full-service carrier”, but at the same time admitted that it would need to heed “a lot of the good practices of low-cost carriers”. He also said that he was looking at a range of initiatives for the carrier, and that integration of the bmi frequent flyer programme Diamond Club into owner Lufthansa’s Miles and More loyalty programme was “one possibility”.

Talking about Bmi’s decision to pull off the London-Amsterdam route (see online news November 25) he said that “it doesn’t make sense to fly into the hub of another alliance [Skyteam’s KLM at Schiphol]”, and said that it was his task to “optimise route network and fleet allocation, and improve connectivity in London”.

As reported on yesterday, Bmi will be operating services between Brussels and Bristol/Newcastle on behalf of fellow Lufthansa-backed Brussels Airlines from next January, using Embraer 145 aircraft that will be made available from Bmi pulling off the London Heathrow to Brussels route on January 9.

  • Also at the event was Mark Schwab, senior vice president Alliances, International and Regulatory Affairs at United Airlines, who spoke of the carrier’s continued refit of its long-haul aircraft with fully-flat beds in business class. The refit of United’s 767 aircraft was completed earlier this year, with its 747s due for completion this month. Work will then begin on its fleet of 777s in the first quarter of 2010, with a timescale of around two years to completion. For a recent review of the new product on the London Heathrow-Washington route, click here.

Schwab also pointed to two new long-haul routes for the carrier in 2010, namely Chicago to Brussels starting on March 10, and Washington to Bahrain on March 28.

  • In general Star Alliance news, a total of three carriers are due to join the fold in 2010, with Brazilian airline TAM due to be first up in April, followed by Greek carrier Aegean in the summer, and the long-awaited inauguration of Air India towards the end of the year.

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Report by Mark Caswell

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