Brussels Airlines Forecasts a Record Year in Air Freight

According to estimates, the carrier can expect record cargo sales in 2014. Unprecedented capacity demands, up the carrier’s load factor substantially and generate additional revenues.

A330 of Brussels Airlines unloading cargo at Dakar  /  source: hs
A330 of Brussels Airlines unloading cargo at Dakar / source: hs

Brussels Airlines’ executives took a risky but very wise decision that is in full accord with demands propagated amongst others by the World Health Organization: to not stop flying to the Ebola-hit African countries. “Unlike other carriers we never interrupted or even terminated line-haul services to Monrovia, Conakry and Freetown in West Africa, despite the Ebola risk,” states the company’s head of communication, Geert Sciot. This decision, however, was and still is accompanied by daily risk assessments and a number of strict precautions to protect the crews from getting in contact with locals that possibly had contracted the virus and prevent contagious passengers from boarding the planes. There are traditionally very strong ties between Belgium and West African countries and Brussels Airlines decision to continue operations is seen largely also as a humanitarian signal to the afflicted countries. 

 

Crew change shifted to Dakar
“Instead of changing crews in Monrovia as done before, they now stay-over in Dakar,” states Herman Hoornaert, Head of Brussels Airlines Cargo. He goes on to say that additional personnel was hired at West African airports serving his airline to set up a framework of health checks to avoid any contagious passenger from starting his air journey.

“These extra costs together with the high transport demand asked for by organizations and the market justifies in some cases rate increases in cargo on flights to West Africa,” Herman argues. The financial outcome will be seen when the 2014 results will be tabled next March.

 

Demand exceeds capacity
Concerning the demand Herman speaks of an “avalanche of requests coming from NGO’s for urgently bringing relief goods or hygienic material to the affected regions.”
To manage all this, Brussels Airlines decided to charter main deck capacity on an MD-11F belonging to the fleet of Nigerian carrier Allied Air that connects Liege Airport in Belgium’s Walloon Province with destinations in West Africa. “This we do to prevent a backlog of shipments from being piled up, because we ourselves have limited cargo capacity on our own A330 passenger aircraft that we operate on all of our intercontinental routes,” Herman explains. Obviously too little to uplift the masses of shipments flooding into Belgium these days from all over the world to be urgently brought to Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea. 

 

No risk of a monopoly
Both Geert and Herman are proud that Brussels Airline continues serving the Ebola hit African countries unlike most other passenger airlines that stopped flying. Only pure cargo carriers such as Cargolux, Lufthansa Cargo and some others still continue flying to West Africa. Even a vessel from the Dutch Navy sailed to Freetown to bring supplies, hygienic material and protective clothing to Sierra Leone. “So we don’t have a transport monopoly to and from West Africa,” manager Hoornaert emphasizes.

Herman Hoornaert
Herman Hoornaert

Thriving cargo figures
As result of the increased capacity demand he forecasts for 2014 a substantial increase in sales year-on-year, without revealing precise figures. In total, cargo contributes between 6 and 7 percent to the carrier’s net result.
As Geert Sciot confirms, the Washington flights stopped during the winter season will be resumed at the beginning of next year’s summer schedule. “We’ll operate that route five times per week,” he says. Particularly for pharma the Washington flights are of great importance for his airline, confirms Herman Hoornaert. With Brussels Airport having developed into a premier European gateway for pharmaceutical products the transport demand on this specific transatlantic link is expected to increase rapidly further.

Pax biz is on target
While the air freight biz at Brussels Airlines continues to deliver net profits the passenger sector is on its way from red to black figures. “We are precisely on track,” confirms manager Sciot. “The turnaround is clearly noticeable, although in 2014 we will still miss profitability. This target we are confident to reach in fiscal 2015,” he adds. 

Further fleet harmonization
The way out of the vale of tears was paved by a number of strategic decisions taken by the management. This includes a new, competitive price strategy and aggressive market approach, an increase in capacity by adding one Airbus A320 and an A319 to the fleet, serving more leisure destinations and by offering passengers more booking choices by introducing different travel options from low fare to biz on board the same aircraft. Next, “we will further harmonize our fleet, by concentrating on A320/A319 for serving short and medium-haul routes and A330s for operating intercontinental flights,” Geert states. All other aircraft, namely the 12 Avros RJ100 will leave the fleet until 2017.
To complete the fleet adjustment program and to enable further growth additional long-haul aircraft are expected to be leased. Says Geert: “Concerning this issue, no precise time line has been decided on by our Board members yet.”

Heiner Siegmund

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