Star carriers operating at BRU already have a combined 50 per cent-plus share of the airport’s traffic, a level set to increase substantially as partners add services and feed connecting traffic to Brussels Airlines’ wide European network:
● Continental Airlines already operates daily flights from Newark to Brussels and United Airlines, which currently operates daily nonstop service from Washington, will begin daily Brussels-Chicago flights on March 28. According to United’s Mark Schwab, senior vice president – alliances, international & regulatory affairs, United’s flights are timed to connect with Brussels Airlines’ African services.
● Beginning June 12, Star partner Air Canada plans nonstop flights between Brussels and Montreal, with tag/onward service to Toronto;
● US Airways plans to make its seasonal Philadelphia-Brussels service into year-round service this summer;
● Finnish partner Blue1 will begin daily Helsinki-Brussels flights in March; and
● Egyptair will boost its five weekly flights from Cairo to daily service this year.
Another factor contributing to Star’s growing share at BRU will be the termination of Brussels Airlines’ code-share with American Airlines on March 27.
Some of Brussels Airlines’ partnerships with Star Alliance member carriers – including Lufthansa, bmi, SWISS, LOT Polish Airlines and TAP Portugal, put in place during the last six months of 2009 – were already yielding benefits to the airline and increasing Star’s share of airport traffic before its formal joining on December 9.
“With code shares, the number of connecting passengers on some routes has already doubled,” says BRU’s Verhallen, noting that transfer passengers currently account for about 10 per cent of Brussels Airport’s passenger count. “We want to grow it to 20 per cent.”
That is bound to happen. Brussels Airlines already is talking with numerous other Star members about commercial agreements and codeshare partnerships; it has been integrated into Lufthansa’s Miles & More frequent flyer program; and it is participating in three Star Alliance fare products: the Round the World fare, Europe Airpass and Africa Airpass.
The airport’s increasing services are likely to attract growing numbers of travelers. Verhallen notes that there are almost 11 million residents of Belgium within 90 minutes of the airport; another four million residents of The Netherlands who are closer to BRU than Amsterdam, and four million French residents closer to Brussels than Paris Charles de Gaulle.
Add to that one million Brussels residents of foreign origin, the multiple thousands working at the European Union and 1,000 Brussels-based international organizations and diplomatic missions, and employees of the 1,000-plus multinational companies whose EU headquarters are in Brussels. Access to the airport also will be improved in 2012 by a new high-speed train and rail extension to the north, according to Verhallen.
Although Verhallen notes Asiana Cargo and Singapore Airlines Cargo operate a total of 14 weekly freighter flights from Brussels, Asia is an important market segment missing from Star’s passenger services from the hub. Verhallen says that, since rival hubs Amsterdam, Paris and London all have good Asian services, he is hoping a Star carrier will remedy this “long-haul network imbalance”.
Brussels Airlines also is weighing future expansion. “We have big plans to reinforce our position as the gateway to Africa, the European hub for Africa countries,” says Gustin. “But we are very cautious in investing. We want to do it before others, but not too much in advance.”
Gustin also does not rule out transatlantic service at some future date, since the airline’s European feed relies on partners. “It makes sense that one day we will do transatlantic,” he says.
The airline currently has 3,000 employees and a fleet of 51 aircraft, including four long-range Airbus A330-300s used on African routes. It also has 47 single-aisle aircraft, including 32 Avro RJ85s, RJ100s and BAe 146s; 11 Boeing 737-300s and 737-400s, which Brussels Airlines uses on most of its European routes; and four Airbus A319s, used on medium-haul European routes and to Tel Aviv.
Although many carriers eschewed the aging, four-engine Avro/BAe aircraft over the years to cut costs, their ability to operate into airports with steep approaches and short runways has allowed the airline to operate into restricted city airports at Florence, Milan and Stockholm.
Carole Shifrin has been a Washington-based freelance writer for ten years. Her career includes 15 years at Aviation Week & Space Technology, where she served as Dallas Bureau Chief, London Bureau Chief and Senior Transport Editor, and 13 years as a staff writer at The Washington Post. Carole is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Lauren D. Lyman Award for distinguished, career-long achievement in aviation journalism.