In an interview with Belgian newspapers L’Echo, Le Soir and La Libre Belgique, Air Belgium’s CEO Niky Terzakis, accompanied by the Chairman of the Board Eric Bauche and sales director CFO Philippe Wilmart, renewed his faith in the future of his airline.
He regretted some leaks in the press: many people talk about Air Belgium, which itself did not disclose very much. Business should be done behind closed doors, not in public. Many airlines have disappeared in recent months, but Air Belgium is still present.
Niky Terzakis reviewed the past: the failure of the scheduled route from Brussels South Charleroi to Hong Kong. He blamed it on the surprise withdrawal of his Chinese partner U-Tour, “a reputable organisation of five tour operators“, which accounted for 70% of all the revenues of this route. U-Tour had already flouted Liege Airport two years ago. “In Europe, when we sign a contract, we respect the terms. This was not the case for our Chinese partner who was not correct. Even though I have been working with Chinese for 25 years and this is the first time I see this.”
The problems were compounded by the opening of the Brussels – Hong Kong route by Cathay Pacific. Terzakis regrets that Brussels Airport welcomed Cathay, a direct competitor, with open arms instead of favouring national companies.
Air Belgium had to react very quickly and started offering ACMI flights, supplying aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance to other airlines with its four Airbus A340-300 aircraft. It had successfully enrolled several important customers: Air France, British Airways, LOT Polish Airlines, TUI fly, Condor, etc. Air Belgium even made flights to Greenland for the luxury cruise ship operator Ponant. “We carried 175,000 passengers with these operations and since April we have been making money,” says Terzakis, who adds that its four aeroplanes are in high demand (100% this summer, 75% over the full year), showing that he is a reliable partner.
Despite the fact that the airline lost 18 million euros in fiscal 2018, “Air Belgium is doing better,” says the CEO. It will launch new scheduled destinations in Guadeloupe and Martinique from Charleroi on 7 December 2019, and even without any specific marketing campaign, 20% of the seats are already sold for next winter season one week after reservations were opened. The tour operators Rainbow and Club Med are among the partners for these destinations.
In addition, Air Belgium is still aiming to connect Charleroi to several Chinese cities by next summer. “The Chinese market is impossible to avoid, even if air travel is subsidised there: no Chinese traveller pays the normal price of an aeroplane ticket“. But Air Belgium retained the lesson from the Hong Kong failure and will work with many different partners.
Air Belgium constantly looks at opportunities, with priority destinations in Asia, North and Central America, then South America and possibly Africa. “We must be profitable and we will not go where competition is too high.”