BRUSSELS AIRLINES HARD HIT BY ZAVENTEM CLOSURE
(Posted 30th March 2016)
The closure of Brussels’ Zaventem Airport, today entering its ninth day, could not have come at a worse time, for the airport itself and for all the airlines normally operating from there.
The busy Easter holiday season saw many travelers cancel their travel plans altogether while others had to use a range of alternate airports in order to fly out of or into Belgium. Businesses located at the airport, as well as airlines, are all staring at major losses in terms of revenues, given that the busy Easter season, normally a money spinner, was entirely lost this year. In terms of annual profits, which will be affected by the lengthy closure of Zaventem can the results of this incident perhaps only be seen next year when balance sheets have been drawn up and a comparison is then possible.
Hardest hit among the dozens of airlines normally frequenting Zaventem was no doubt Brussels Airlines, the home carrier of Belgium.
European departures and arrivals were within the space of two days shifted to both Liege and Antwerp while international flights to and from Africa and to and from North America, were using both Frankfurt and Zurich. In both airports did Brussels Airlines receive the support of Star Alliance partners Lufthansa and Swiss, keeping passenger inconvenience to a minimum.
Still, for Brussels Airlines the airport closure could not have come at a worse time. Ready to resume flights during the summer schedule to Washington DC was the airline also set to increase the number of flights to Entebbe and Kigali from the present four to five per week. In addition was the airline launching Toronto following the withdrawal of the codeshared flight by India’s Jet Airways. The inaugural flight to Brussels Airlines first ever Canadian destination has been postponed until 02nd of April by which time operations out of Zaventem should have fully resumed.
Only days prior to the attack on the airport did information emerge that Brussels Airlines had accomplished a financial turnaround and posted a 41.3 million Euros profit for last year, setting it on a sound growth path. Additional Airbus A330 long haul aircraft were joining the fleet and the ageing AVRO 85 and AVRO 100 fleet was to be gradually retired and new and larger Airbus A319/320’s to be brought online as replacements.
At the same time was it confirmed that Lufthansa, already holding a 45 percent stake in Brussels Airlines, was mulling over a decision due to be taken by April, of acquiring the remaining shares, as was reported here two weeks ago.
All airlines operating into and out of Zaventem, as a result of the closure, took financial hits due to loss of revenue or added cost incurred to rebook and reschedule their passengers. Brussels Airlines though, using Zaventem as their hub airport, is expected to suffer the most from the events of last Tuesday and the subsequent closure of the airport due to the sheer number of flights they operate from there.
The short / medium haul fleet was last week already transferred to both Liege and Antwerp to serve European destinations but at a price, which, together with the need to operate long haul flights out of Frankfurt and Zurich, could run into as much as several million Euros a day, made up of revenue losses and added operational cost.
The airline though has clearly put their passengers interests and convenience first and appears ready to absorb financial pain in order to maintain its market standing as Europe’s largest carrier to Africa and main connector to the European capital from across the EU and other, non EU European countries.
It remains to be seen if the Belgian government will help absorb such operational losses and reimburse Brussels Airlines under a deal which given such exceptional circumstances may get the nod of the EU. Precedent has been set for such action following the post 9/11 bailout of airlines by the US government and it is only fair that Belgium and the EU consider doing the same for Brussels Airlines and other carriers affected by the Zaventem closure.
Brussels Airport had in the meantime opened a dedicated website where up to date information is posted, which can be accessed via http://www.brusselsairport2203.be/en/
Brussels Airlines in the meantime continues updates on flight departures, arrivals and locations via https://www.brusselsairlines.com/en-be/misc/AlertMessageDetail.aspx
Meanwhile have dozens of Brussels Airlines staff volunteered to support their colleagues in the social media department to help answer the flood of questions and queries, a remarkable effort which speaks volumes for the attitude of the airline’s staff and their willingness and readiness to chip in and help overcome the challenges of the past nine days.
In contrast has oneWorld founder member American Airlines pulled all flights from Philadelphia to Brussels until at least the 07th of April, a move widely seen in Belgium as sending the wrong signal to the perpetrators of the airport attack last Tuesday and considered unhelpful under the circumstances.