Will Air Belgium Ever Return To China?

Air Belgium is set to begin operating routes for itself again this December, with services to the French Antilles planned. However, the carrier has also maintained that it is committed to beginning services to China again, despite failing to make its Hong Kong service work last year. We take a look at Air Belgium, and whether they will indeed return to China in 2020.

Air Belgium A340
Will Air Belgium ever make it back to China? Photo: Air Belgium

Air Belgium’s previous fail

Air Belgium, a small hybrid airline with just four aircraft, had planned to begin flying to Hong Kong in March last year. However, issues in securing overfly rights with Russia and other hiccups forced them to push things back.

The carrier finally began flying to Hong Kong in June 2018. However, the flights did not go well for Air Belgium, and it took the decision to suspend the service just four months later, in October.

Air Belgium
Air Belgium abandoned Hong Kong four months into service. Photo: Air Belgium

At the time, the carrier commented in a press release,

“It is a painful decision to make but a reasonable one when it comes to preserving our development capabilities and assure continued full employment.”

However, the airline proclaimed its ongoing commitment to serve Hong Kong, stating that it would serve two destinations in mainland China from Brussels-Charleroi this summer. So far, no route announcements have been forthcoming, at least not to China.

It should have worked

According to Route Online, the market between China and Belgium is relatively solid, and growing at an appealing rate. In 2018, traffic was up by 50% over the year before, with more than 60,000 passengers making the trip in one direction or the other.

Less than half of these passengers flew nonstop, just 42%. The rest mainly traveled on a one-stop itinerary, connecting at airports such as London Heathrow, Zurich and Dubai.

Cathay Pacific A350
Cathay makes the route work, with an A350 four times a week. Photo: Cathay Pacific

Only Cathay Pacific flies direct between Brussels and Hong Kong, with just four flights per week on the route. Launched in March 2018, the route uses an Airbus A350, and clearly, it’s working for Cathay, so why not Air Belgium?

The fact of the matter is that Air Belgium is a wholly unappealing airline to fliers. It has no network, no codeshares and no alliance partners. Since it axed its Hong Kong flights, it has operated as nothing more than a caretaker for other carriers, including British Airways. As such, passengers would pick the more appealing Cathay flights, or put up with a one-stop connection instead.

Coming back to Hong Kong?

Reported by Air Transport World yesterday, Air Belgium is indeed looking at making a comeback in Hong Kong. A spokesperson told ATW that the carrier is committed to operating services to China next summer and that it will be, “continuing to offer ACMI services throughout 2020.”

Earlier this month, CAPA’s Blue Swan Daily reported that the CEO of Air Belgium, Niky Terzakis, said the carrier was still targeting a resumption of Hong Kong service in summer 2020. Aviation 24 BE also says that the CEO has noted the airline’s intention to start service to two Chinese destinations in 2020.

Air Belgium
Air Belgium remains committed to ACMI routes for 2020. Photo: Air Belgium

While this is all up in the air at the moment, what looks more certain is that the carrier will begin services to the French Antilles in December. The new service will directly connect Belgium to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe and to Fort-de-France in Martinique with two flights per week starting on December 7th, 2019.

ATW report that the carrier told them they are seriously considering increasing capacity on these routes, and eventually operating two straight rotations. They are also thinking about two other transatlantic routes in the near future, which the spokesperson said, “would be disclosed in due time.”

Rumor has it that those destinations could be Miami, Florida, and Kinshasa in the DRC.

Do you think Air Belgium will make it to China next summer? Would you fly with them if they do? Let us know in the comments.