“Our African customers have been the most resilient of all our services worldwide,” says the manager, who has been at the helm of the carrier since the 1990s and is now leading a company that has suffered from the pandemic.
Brussels Airlines recorded a 45% drop in turnover during the first half of 2021, compared to the same period last year. Results for the whole of 2021 are not yet available. Over the same period, the occupancy rate decreased by 11.7 percentage points to 60.7%. In 2020, the company had a turnover of €414m ($472m), down 72% compared to 2019 (when it was €1.47bn).
African routes (17 destinations) account for more than 80% of Brussels Airlines’ long-haul network and a third of its turnover. In 2018, a successful year, the airline carried 1.2 million passengers to Africa, still less than Air France.
To encourage the anticipated rebound this year, Brussels Airlines, which had to reduce its intercontinental fleet from 10 to eight aircraft in 2020, will get one aircraft back, a ninth Airbus A330, from June. The company operates its flights on the continent with only one type of aircraft, A330-300s, to facilitate maintenance.
This new aircraft will enable it to reopen two services in the sub-Saharan region, which had been suspended due to the health crisis: Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Conakry in Guinea, which will be served three times a week.
At the same time, the frequency of flights to five destinations in West and East Africa will increase. Banjul (where Air France opened a route last November), Lomé, Monrovia and Kigali will benefit from five weekly flights, while the flight to Entebbe will be daily.
The article continues below
Get your free PDF: Top 200 banks 2019
The race to transform
Complete the form and download, for free, the highlights from The Africa Report’s Exclusive Ranking of Africa’s top 200 banks from last year. Get your free PDF by completing the following form
To manage the continent’s activity, the carrier has established six hubs – Abidjan, Dakar, Nairobi, Lagos, Douala and Johannesburg – which are linked to the network of two other airlines integrated into the Lufthansa group, Swiss and Austrian Airlines. The various zones are managed by general managers, all of whom are based in Brussels, which remains the African hub.
The company intends to continue to position itself strategically in all market segments. Although the so-called VFR (Visit Friends Relatives) segment is at the heart of the reconquest plan, new premium fare offers, in particular business cabins fitted out like those of some competitors, have been proposed.
Connections to New York
The cargo business, operated by the parent company Lufthansa and largely maintained during the period, will remain crucial in 2022. The business and economy sectors of Kinshasa, the airline’s flagship destination, have recovered, as have purely tourist destinations in Southern Africa, such as Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Mombasa in Kenya, and Zanzibar in Tanzania.
In addition, new daily flights from Brussels to New York (as opposed to four per week in the past) should make it possible to accommodate passengers from West Africa who do not have direct connections to the US.
Understand Africa's tomorrow... today
We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.View subscription options