Air Belgium Makes Some Interesting Claims About Their Success

I’ve written extensively about Air Belgium, the startup airline that operates flights between Brussels Charleroi Airport and Hong Kong. The airline has three A340-300s in their fleet, with a fourth A340-300 to be delivered soon. As of now they operate a single flight between Charleroi and Hong Kong 3x weekly, though they also operate some flights on behalf of other airlines.

had the opportunity to fly with them in business class to Hong Kong, and had a surprisingly great flight (it’s hard not to when you’re one of only two dozen passengers on a longhaul flight).

Anyway, I’ve written extensively about my fascination with the airline, and about how I question how much longer they can sustain operations.

That brings us to a very interesting article from luchtvaartnieuws.nl, which quotes Air Belgium’s CEO. According to him (and assuming I’m translating this correctly):

  • The airline plans to launch additional routes to Asia between September and November, with potential destinations including Zhengzhou, Wuhan, and Taiyuan
  • In the future the airline is planning flights to other destinations, including Tokyo, Cebu, and Seoul via Hong Kong
  • They are satisfied with their load factor, and claim that the airline had an average load factor of 52-60% in July, and that it’s now 75-80%
  • They claim that 80% of Air Belgium business passengers come from the North of Belgium
  • They acknowledge that the market has too much capacity, given that Cathay Pacific recently started flying to Brussels

Call me crazy, but I’m highly skeptical of a lot of these claims:

  • 52-60% is a big range to give for the load factor, which makes me question how truthful that is; the load factor on my flight in early July was 8%, so they really must be making up for it on other flights
  • Having a 75-80% load factor now seems highly suspect, given that their flights have only been in the GDS since the beginning of the month
  • If they do achieve a high load factor (which is still very different than being profitable), it will almost certainly be due to Chinese tour groups, as I know that’s part of their business model
  • Along those lines, it’s funny that they suggest that 80% of business travelers are from Belgium, because I suspect they’re going off a very small number there; perhaps the other 20% is literally me and those Hong Kong bloggers?

Like I said, I have a lot of doubts here. I’d love for them to succeed in terms of how great their cabin crew are, and how nice their operation is (well, other than actually operating flights when they say they will). However, I just don’t see the business model, and it sure seems to me that if they’re hoping to make money, operating charter flights is the way to go.

I guess we’ll find out soon enough if they follow through on adding these additional flights to China, and I guess time will tell whether their load factor really has reached 80%.

What do you make of all of this?

(Tip of the hat to Gilles)

Comments

  1. If they really start flying to Zhengzhou, Taiyuan, or Wuhan they could probably make money even if the plane flew empty because the 2nd tier Chinese cities are throwing subsidies at any foreign airline willing to bite to fly long-haul flights there.

  2. It says they think of direct flights to Cebu and Tokyo, and flights to Seoul through HKG. Plans to increase the number of weekly flights to HKG to 4 flights have been cancelled

  3. The original article says that 80% of BUSINESS passengers are from the north of Belgium, not total passengers. And Belgium is a divided country, huge cultural differences between North and South so that is what the CEO was referring to.

  4. You ve been writing a lot about this airline and i dont understand why??are they sponsoring you?? I think most of your readers will never fly this airline and arent interested a bit.
    Charleroi is a main city distinctive of Brussels,its like you calling Nottingham/londin airport.

  5. “so they really must be making up for it on other flights”
    Or even just “making it up”!?
    Seriously though, is there any way outsiders can verify load factors?

  6. @Mo. I will likely not fly Air Belgium ever (or TAAG, or 90% of these airlines) let alone in first class. But, I still like reading about them which is why I like this blog. Im interested in the Air Belgium story becuase the story is interesting to me. Will they make it? If so, what is their strategy?
    So, should Lucky take a poll to decide whether he writes about Air Belgium? Or we can pick and choose what we want to read from this free blog/newsletter?

  7. Hey Mo:

    You’re evidently not a regular reader.

    Ben is fascinated with just about ALL weird start-up airlines — and the weirder the better. If you go back a ways, for example, there are about a zillion posts about La Compagnie. Ben managed to snag a seat on their second flight, and posted the first professional review.

    I should also point out that Ben — very obviously — doesn’t care whether you, I or any other reader is interested in this sort of post. He does it because he loves it. Maybe there’s an adrenaline rush?

  8. Slight correction: 80% of *business* passengers come from the north of Belgium (Flanders). The article doesn’t say anything about economy passengers, which may well be predominantly Chinese tour groups.

  9. @Mo – the official name of the airport is Brussels South Charleroi Airport. It’s 29 miles from the Brussels city centre (per Wikipedia), the same distance London Luton is from central London. (London Stansted and London Southend are both further from London than Charleroi is from Brussels.)

    And Charleroi is only a city of ~200k people, so its not surprising they’d want to associate their airport with the country’s main city.

  10. @Mo – I’m interested, as are plenty of other people…

    As to the people always accusing them of money laundering – can you explain how they’re laundering the money? If they’re making a loss then how can they use any of it? Does a business not need to be profitable on paper for that to work?

    Unless you’re suggesting they’re using fake suppliers?

  11. @Jack Actually a lot of people speak Dutch In Belgium ,however I think Ben was referring to a Dutch website.You might want to read the article properly before trying to be a smarty pants ( sorry for the strong language).

  12. @Jack – Dutch is one of the three official languages of Belgium (with French and German)

    It’s actually the official language of the Flemish (Flanders) region which is just under 60% of the country.

  13. Flew them 3 weeks ago in premium economy. Experience was solid and average load factors were approx J15% – PE20% – Y65%, mostly Chinese travel groups. I have some pictures of the experience incase you want.

  14. Hi Lucky
    Stewart is right.
    The ( Dutch) website says that the CEO says in the Belgian (French language) newspaper Le Soir that he is surprised to see that 80 % of business travelers is from the North of Belgium (Flanders, Flemish part, Dutch speaking). That might be surprising in a way because that region is closer to Schiphol Amsterdam, plus has Brussels airport in it.
    On the other hand, Flanders is where most of the economy is located and distanced are soooo relative in Belgium (CRL is merely a 40 km or so from BRU).
    I could do you a favor and look for the original interview and translate myself but I think we all agree this is too much trouble for a non-issue, an airline that will soon cease to operate;-)
    Too bad that quite some tax money was poured into it…

  15. on the money laundering.

    Use black monney to buy tickets and report the cash flow as white monney.

    only downside is that you cant realy use cash for this.

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