Charleroi-based scheduled and charter airline Air Belgium has decided to halt its Caribbean operations until March. The announcement comes shortly after the Belgian government banned international leisure travel to minimize the spread of coronavirus.
Suspension of Caribbean routes
Earlier this week, the Belgian government banned international leisure travel in and out of the country until March 1st. It hopes to prevent a potential spike in cases that could otherwise arise during the mid-February half-term period. Correspondingly, Air Belgium announced that it would have to “temporarily suspend [its] flights to and from the French West Indies.”
January 26th will represent the last date that its Brussels Charleroi – Pointe-à-Pitre – Fort-de-France – Brussels Charleroi will operate per its usual schedule. The travel ban comes into effect the following day, although the carrier will operate one final rotation of this triangular route at the end of the month.
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This will see it combine departures on January 29th and 30th to operate a single Brussels – Pointe-à-Pitre – Fort-de-France – Brussels rotation on the former of these dates. In light of the leisure ban, the carrier also states that “passengers must be able to justify their travel for an essential reason.”
However, it plans to provisionally restart its full schedule on March 1st, depending on how the situation develops. Passengers with cancelled flights during the ban period can “postpone their trip free of charge to a later date and under the same conditions, or be reimbursed.”
A difficult few months
As has been the case with many airlines worldwide, recent months have not been particularly kind to Air Belgium. Last October, uncertainty regarding travel restrictions brought on by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic caused its new long-haul flights to the French West Indies and Mauritius to be delayed. The airline announced that it would look to commence these services two months later, in mid-December.
The carrier’s fleet has also taken a significant impact due to the current crisis. Despite operating large Airbus A340-300 aircraft, the number of these in Air Belgium’s fleet has always been small. Just a week after the aforementioned announcement regarding delays to its new routes, the airline announced it would be sending two of its four A340s into long-term storage.
With passenger demand at an unprecedented low for the airline, it deemed that half of its aircraft were surplus to requirements. Earlier this month, Air Belgium retired one of these aircraft, cutting its fleet size by a quarter. Planespotters.net reports that the airline had received this aircraft, which bore the registration OO-ABE, in June 2018. It also operated flights for carriers such as LOT Polish Airlines and British Airways on lease deals in its two-and-a-half years with the airline.
Looking to the future
It is difficult to know what exactly the future holds for Air Belgium. Of course, this is an immensely uncertain time for any airline. However, small carriers such as Air Belgium are particularly at risk, as they may lack the government support given to larger airlines such as American Airlines. The US legacy carrier has already received billions of dollars.
Nonetheless, Air Belgium is a fascinating little airline. One can only hope that it can emerge as unscathed as possible on the other side of the crisis, and return to its full operational capabilities.
What do you make of Air Belgium’s decision to suspend its flights to and from the Caribbean until March? have you ever flown with the airline? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!