A firm presence in West-Africa was one of the things Brussels Airlines inherited from its predecessor Sabena, together with local dedicated staff. The company’s decision not to discontinue its services to the Ebola-infected areas, has added to its reputation as a reliable specialist. It has earned the cargo division a lot of goodwill.
The fact that various international medical and aid organisations have had to send medical supplies and pharmaceuticals over and over again ever since the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic, has led
to backlogs in Brussels, says Cargo Manager Herman Hoornaert.
Network adjustments were indispensible
“On the other hand, the restrictions triggered off by the epidemic have seriously fouled up our classical triangular scheme,” he admits. “At the moment it is impossible to fly the Brussels-Dakar-Conakry-Brussels combination. We no longer allow crew changes and overnight stays in the affect countries. That’s why all our flights make a technical stop in Dakar, where crews are changed while the passengers stay aboard. So we fly Brussels-Dakar, with crew change, -Conakry-Freetown-Brussels on days 2 and 7.”
What has remained is Brussels-Banjul-Dakar-Brussels, on days 1, 3 and 5. Brussels-Dakar-Brussels is offered on days 2 and 7. Twice a week, on days 1 and 5, Brussels Airlines flies to Monrovia, again with a crew change in Dakar.
The good reputation as African specialist remains preserved
The epidemic has had its consequences on the passenger side. Southbound the numbers have gone down; northbound they appear to be stable. “For us that means more cargo capacity,” says Herman. “On the A330-300 we have three extra positions. Due to the lower seat demand, our passenger department however prefers the A330-200, which does not have these additional positions. From our point of view, these aircraft are always full.”
Both Freetown and Conakry have traditionally been rather small cargo markets. Even then, the persistent approach of Brussels Airlines of the Ebola crisis has created a lot of goodwill, reminiscent of Idi Amin’s Uganda of the 1970’ies. In those days too, BA’s predecessor Sabena found itself to be the only European airline still serving Entebbe.
“Again we are given the opportunity to make ourselves known as the Africa specialist,” says Herman. “You mustn’t forget that we serve 17 destinations in Sub-Saharian Africa.”
Safety comes first
The company is taking the highest possible precautions as to the wellbeing of its crews. All of them are volunteers, which have been extensively informed about Ebola by Médecins sans Frontières.
The extra costs involved have to be reflected in the rates. Herman admits that Brussels Airlines Cargo is charging its more expensive express rates. “But we are also demonstrating our sense of social responsibility, by flying emergency aid for various charity organisations to the Ebola countries.”
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels