Air Belgium has made its commercial debut after launching direct services between its Brussels Charleroi base and Hong Kong. The first flight, which departed on June 3, was operated by Airbus A340-313 OO-ABB (c/n 844), one of two former Finnair examples owned by the carrier.
It was preceded by a special ceremony – attended by airline and airport executives as well as ministers and local authority representatives – during which the start-up also introduced its new business class lounge.
Air Belgium chairman Eric Bauche remarked: “We’re very proud to launch this very first commercial flight connection between Brussels South Charleroi Airport (BSCA) and Asia. Both our own and BSCA’s people have worked on this project for two years. Hong Kong is only the first stop in our Chinese adventure and we’ll soon be announcing new destinations. We’d like to thank the authorities, the federal and regional governments and all our partners for their unwavering support.”
Laurent Lévêque, chairman of BSCA added: “The arrival of Air Belgium at our airport illustrates our desire to keep moving forward. The fact that we’re now able to offer long-haul and intercontinental flights is a new milestone for our airport. The investments we’ve made, such as extending the runway and improving the infrastructure in which we welcome our passengers, have contributed to that milestone. We’ve proven that dreams can lead to exciting realities.”
Air Belgium CEO Niky Terzakis had previously revealed that initial services to Asia will be payload restricted, owing to Charleroi’s relatively short 8,366ft (2,550m) runway. He told ch-aviation: “We will be operating temporarily at reduced lower deck cargo uplift Eastbound from Charleroi and essentially only on the longest route, Charleroi to Hong Kong.
“The prospect of an en-route fuel stop is [also] out of the question. We will not, however, have any limitations on passengers or cargo on westbound legs,” he said.
Terzakis added that operations have started with the aircraft configured in a 257 seat layout, but will eventually increase to 303. Cargo restrictions are also expected to be progressively lifted as outstanding environmental and infrastructural issues are addressed, including completion of a 2,300ft-long (700m) runway extension.
The inaugural service comes almost two months later than originally planned after the carrier encountered administrative issues. Having secured its AOC in March, the new airline said it would introduce its Hong Kong route in April but was forced to delay its debut after running into difficulties acquiring overflight permission from Russia.
Commenting on April 25, 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 other 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 (Global Distribution Systems) implementation, has also prevented Chinese tourist groups from being directed to our flights.”
The airline has, in the meanwhile, put its A340s to use in the ACMI sector, operating charter flights between Amsterdam and Belgium to Paramaribo on behalf of Suriname Airways and, more recently, providing additional capacity for TUI Airlines Belgium and Thomas Cook Airlines’ German subsidiary Condor.