Air Belgium Inaugural Flight Takes Off With 15 Passengers

Filed Under: Other Airlines

I’ve covered Air Belgium extensively, partly because I’m interested in start-up airlines, and partly because I was supposed to fly them shortly after they started operations, so was impacted when they rescheduled flights.

Air Belgium is a new airline that intends to operate a fleet of Airbus A340-300s between Charleroi (outside of Brussels) and China (including the mainland and Hong Kong). The airline was initially supposed to start flying to Hong Kong as of April 30, though finally ended up starting service as of June 3, which was yesterday.

First of all, it’s exciting that the airline finally started flights. What’s equally interesting is the load on the flight. Air Belgium’s inaugural flight to Hong Kong yesterday apparently had just 15 passengers.

The Brussels Times reports that the airline considered this to be a “technical flight,” and not the real “maiden flight:”

This first trip is still considered a “technical flight”, to control all the procedures and refine the final details. The second start on Wednesday (6 June) will be the real “maiden flight”.

That was their first scheduled flight to Hong Kong that was open to the public, so I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be the maiden flight. Perhaps it was just so empty that they didn’t want to throw an inaugural party, and plan to have more festivities and press on Wednesday (or something)?

Air Belgium flights still aren’t bookable in the GDS, greatly limiting the people they can reach, and I can’t imagine their subsequent flights will have significantly more passengers. Can you imagine how much money the airline is losing operating A340s on 10 hour flights with just 15 passengers? Ouch.

There’s also an interesting story a friend sent me a link to regarding Air Belgium delaying their Hong Kong flights. They postponed flights to Hong Kong by about five weeks because they didn’t have overfly rights for Russia, and also because their flights weren’t yet bookable in the GDS (meaning they’d be especially empty). Just how empty were they?

A story L’Echo mentions that when the airline delayed operations by about five weeks, they had to rebook “about sixty” people (and I was one of them — big credit to them for how they handled this). Given that the airline was going to operate 4x weekly flights, that means they canceled 40 flights between Charleroi and Hong Kong (20 in each direction). Based on that, the flights had an average of 1.5-3 people booked on each of them, depending on whether they were traveling one-way or roundtrip. Ouch.

I feel like I need to get my Air Belgium review in sooner rather than later. Who knows how long they’ll be operating independent flights, rather than just chartering their planes to other airlines (which seems like their best chance of establishing a profitable business model at this point).

  1. I’m disappointed you took the free CX flight instead of fly this to review.

    Did you really need those miles… or another CX review…

  2. @ keitherson — I didn’t take the Cathay Pacific flight. I took their offer to rebook on Air Belgium in the future. I just couldn’t make the rescheduled inaugural since I had other plans for that date.

  3. I’m curious, when are you rebooked to fly them? I’m interested to see a review of this airline.

  4. If you want to save money: Rebook in premium economy.

    You’ll end up in the same full flat J seat with a different soft product.

  5. I was on the Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Manila this morning which was at the gate next to the Air Belgium plane. I smiled to myself when seeing it after all of your articles on them. We were delayed taking off due to some thunderstorms so I had quite some time to observe. I didn’t get to see how many passengers were preparing to board but they did seem to unload a completely full load of cargo. Perhaps it is time they forgot about passengers and just got into the cargo business instead. Their livery looks great but I do pity any start up airline trying to make money at these fuel prices with a 4 engined aircraft.

  6. One flight to Hong Kong. No partners. Difficult to make reservations. No feeding traffic. A fuel guzzler plane.

    I feel sorry for the people who thought this was a good investment, and the airline employees.

  7. I could be wrong, but I understood that the vast majority of their pax will be Chinese tour-operator / charter customers. In which case your interpretation of low pax counts is misleading – they wouldn’t have had to rebook many people for the cancelled flights because the tour operator would have done this en masse. This also explains why GDS access is less important.

  8. Long time lurker here – but I’m booked to fly with them on Jun 15 and 21! Happy to report back on how it goes

  9. Airbus A340-300s are notorious gas guzzlers. Airlines can’t get rid of them quick enough and they aren’t popular at all in the used jet lots.

  10. Question: “How do you earn a million bucks starting up in the airline business?”.
    Answer: “Spend ten million!”

    I’d love to see their business case……

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