Exclusive - ET Cargo Returns to Belgium, Exits Maastricht

Last November, Ethiopian Cargo decided to terminate serving Brussels and reduce Liege services, relocating the flights to nearby Maastricht in The Netherlands. However, Maastricht’s joy lasted only five months. Now the Ethiopian carrier pushed the reset button and decided to return all operations to Belgium, sources close to the issue confirmed exclusively to CargoForwarder Global. The step comes as no big surprise to market observers. It is expected to be confirmed by Brussels Airport today (14 March).

Boeing 777Fs are ET Cargo’s main workhorses on flights to/from Belgium – courtesy ET
Boeing 777Fs are ET Cargo’s main workhorses on flights to/from Belgium – courtesy ET

ET Cargo’s decision to stop all Belgian operations and choose Maastricht (MST) as their main European gateway instead was driven by a severe quarrel with the Belgian regulator over bilateral traffic rights.

It’s worth to shortly recap the quarrel that led to ET’s Maastricht move.

TNT objected ET flights
It was Liege-based TNT that spurred the conflict, knocking at the Belgian government’s doors, objecting on granting commercial traffic rights to third countries conceded to Ethiopian Cargo. They argued that this traffic conducted by a non-EU carrier would harm their own intercontinental operations and hence commercial interests. A successful intervention.
Due to TNT’s opposition, the regulator caved in to the integrator’s interests, permitting ET Cargo intercontinental operations out of Belgium only on an ad hoc basis. 
However, due to TNT’s takeover by U.S. package delivery giant FedEx, things have fundamentally changed. TNT was taken off the list as an EU licensed air operator, resulting in the sale of the integrator’s entire fleet. For Belgian’s regulators this meant that TNT’s protectionists claims didn’t apply any longer. Consequently, a new bilateral pact was agreed with Ethiopian Cargo, allowing any Belgian carrier to utilize Addis Ababa as a hub for international flights to targeted destinations, while any Ethiopia-licensed airline are conceded the same traffic rights in Belgium.

New rules of the game
With the sealing of this deal the way was paved for ET Cargo to return its operations to Brussels and Liege. In total, it will be 12 weekly Boeing 777F cargo flights out of Brussels to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Dubai and as new destination Guangzhou. Out of Liege that lost only some of the ET Cargo operated flights to MST, the carrier will offer the market 10 to 12 movements per week to sub-Sahara located destinations, predominantly Lagos, Accra and Johannesburg. All operations will commence at the end of March when this year’s summer flight plan begins.
The return of the lost client will positively affect the tonnage in both Brussels and Liege. Local observers expect the throughput to increase by 30,000 to 40,000 tons per year. It might even be more since ET Cargo will announce additional routes and more frequencies at a later point in time.
Maastricht Airport, however, is left with the role of impartial observer. What started with great hopes last November has turned into a colossal disappointment only five months later.


StarBroker welcomes ET Cargo's return

StarBroker is extremely happy about ET Cargo’s return to Brussels, says VP Europe Peter Karreman. “Ethiopian Airlines can rely on the legal framework  for a further expansion of its network ex Belgium. It will increase the number of flights to 28 per week, shared between Brussels and Liege. Supported by DHL Global Forwarding we are engaged in discussions to start four new destinations from Belgium." Destinations that are not offered from Belgium today.

Heiner Siegmund

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Sven (Monday, 14 March 2016 10:44)

    Yep, Belgium is the best location to have a european hub.