2020 has been a chaotic year for Air Belgium as for most airlines. We slightly see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is a good thing. However, the future won’t be as the forecast anticipated before the crisis. It is time to rethink investments and business objectives and the Belgian airlines recently announced its plan to operate cargo flights from Liege Airport.
The airline’s business plan did not change for AMCI services. Air Belgium fleet of Airbus A340 has operated for many companies and will continue. It’s scheduled flights operation were not so lucky. Plans changed multiple times.
Its situation seemed to improve with the launch of flights to French Antilles. The company found its niche with Guadeloupe and Martinique destination with flights filled with tourist and friends and relatives crossing the ocean. It was fine up until the trouble of COVID and related travel restrictions.
All was not that bad as the Antilles were for an extended period one of the only “orange zone” accessible to the European travellers. This advantage ended abruptly in January when the local authorities imposed a test and a quarantine upon arrival.
It may be acceptable for business and friends and relatives but not for tourist, which made most of the passenger load. Nobody would travel to spend most of its vacation in a quarantine.
The passenger flights were chaotics, and Air Belgium recently ended the lease of one of its aircraft, having no short-term plan to profit. Another plane is in storage until further notice.
In 2020, the company converted part of it’s Airbus A340 passenger fleet to temporary cargo transport. This attempt to grab some profitable segment of the cargo market does not stop there.
The company recently announced it would start cargo operation with a fleet of Airbus A330. These aircraft will operate from Liège airport, which is one of the world busiest cargo airports in the world.
The cargo market and the Liege airport is not unknown to Air Belgium’s CEO Niky Terzakis. Indeed, he was CEO of TNT Airways, the express parcel operator airline operator, which had its European hub in Liège.
As per the Airfleet spotter website listing, these 4 aircrafts are ex-Qatar airlines Aribus A330-200F. The latter is replacing them with bigger capacity Boeing 777. These aircraft were initially due to leave the Qatari airline end of 2020, but the increased demand forced Qatar to keep them as long as it could.
What could Air Belgium do with these four Airbus A330-200F ? It’s unclear from now. The company has not announced any route nor provided any clue to other uses.
It has already a dedicated website to the cargo activity under the Air Belgium Cargo brand. However, the website only outlines its underbelly cargo capabilities on its scheduled flights to the French Antilles.
Given the above, it’s fair to assume that Air Belgium secured some freight contract to fill a sizable part of its cargo fleet. The company is keen on this kind of strategy. For all the passenger routes it lanched, Air Belgium had a partner or a series of partners with tour operators and travel agencies to fill its planes.
This strategy has a drawback as with the Hong-Kong route with a partner that failed to meet its ticket purchases engagement.
All these answers will be answered in March when the first aircraft will land in Liège.
Update 14/02/2021: CMA/CGM, a French maritime operator revealed that it will enter the air freight market with Air Belgium as partner. All 4 Airbus A330-200F will be operated by Air Belgium for CMA / CGM