By introducing Johannesburg and Cape Town as new destinations from Brussels Airport, Air Belgium has added welcome belly capacity to the hub’s Africa network. The company’s minority shareholder, Chinese cargo airline and logistics service provider Hongyuan, is also taking off.
Twice a week, a new A330 Neo will fly the Brussels-Johannesburg-Cape Town-Brussels route. It has been more than 22 years since Brussels Airport last had a connection with South-Africa, at the time served by Sabena.
For cargo, the Airbus aircraft offers 6 lower-deck pallets per flight. The capacity is sold by GSSA Take Off Aviation. “It is a beautiful destination,” says Bart Van Daele, the GSSA’s Managing Director for Belgium. “The distribution of this capacity is centralized in our Paris office. They inform us of the space available as well as the rates.”
Apart from pharmaceuticals, for the logistics of which Brussels Airport is a renowned hub, South-Africa is also an important market for automotive, particularly in the region near Port Elisabeth. Overall, Belgium is South-Africa’s sixth-largest trading partner.
WFS in South-Africa
Both in Belgium and South-Africa, the cargo handling of the flights is performed by WFS. Regarding South-Africa, a WFS press release says: “The airline (Air Belgium, ms) has awarded a three-year contract to WFS, to provide cargo handling for the 1,600 tons per annum forecast to be carried onboard its twice-weekly Airbus A330-Neo flights connecting the two prime South African cities with Brussels.”
WFS, too, expects high volumes of pharma traffic into South Africa, and is convinced that Air Belgium will also help to meet the demand for cargo capacity from the important perishables market between South Africa and Europe (another dedicated commodity of Brussels Airport).
However, Air Belgium’s real value as a cargo operator for Brussels Airport is, of course, in the Chinese Hongyuan Group, which owns 49% of the Air Belgium shares, allowing it to keep on operating under a Belgian AOC. The company opened its own warehouse in Brussels in October 2021.
A three-aircraft fleet is available for cargo. Hongyuan/Air Belgium have 2 B747-8F’s and 1 Airbus A330, with a second one expected to join the fleet this November. For the time being, the aircraft connect Brussels to Chengdu and Dubai. The company envisages flying up to 12 flights a week.
For its GSSA services, Hongyuan has chosen Air Logistics Belgium, which, celebrated its 20th anniversary in Belgium on 11SEP22. At the time of writing this article, the negotiations were still being finalized between Hongyuan and Air Logistics regarding the planned destinations.
From Liege Airport, Air Belgium operates 4 cargo planes owned by CMA-CGM, which will probably be integrated in the new collaboration strategy being set up by CMA-GGM and AF-KLM-Martinair Cargo.
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels
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