Brussels Airlines avoids major competition by focusing on non-hub destinations

Image: Brussels Airlines celebrated its five millionth passenger on Valentine’s Day
Brussels Airlines celebrated its five millionth passenger on Valentine’s Day. The lucky passenger, Carl Verbrugge, is a regular on the Brussels-Geneva route. He received two complementary economy tickets, which he gave to the ‘Les 20 coeurs de Justine’ charity set up by recently retired tennis player Justine Henin.

Logo: Brussels AirlinesThe ‘new’ national airline of Belgium, Brussels Airlines, officially came into existence on 25 March 2007 at the start of the summer season. SN Brussels Airlines (the successor to defunct Sabena) and Brussels-based LCC Virgin Express were already under the single ownership of SN Airholdings and it was decided to merge the airlines into a single brand. With a mixed fleet comprising 30 fuel-hungry Avro RJs/BAe 146s, four A319s, 11 737s, and four A330s for long-haul operations, the airline currently serves 60 destinations non-stop from Brussels.

Chart: Brussels Airlines passengers & load factor
Source: AEA
Image: Justine Henin featured in Brussels Airlines promotion
Presumably letting Brussels Airlines know was not top of Justin Henin’s priority list when she recently decided to quit her tennis-playing career…

During 2007 the airline’s passenger numbers increased by 108,000 to 5.8 million, revenues rose to €921 million, while consolidated net profit increased from €13.9 million to €23.1 million. In the first month where year-on-year comparisons are meaningful (April 2008) passenger numbers are up just 1.3%, while capacity is up 11% leading to a 6.6 percentage point reduction in load factor. However, this may have a lot to do with Easter occurring in March this year rather than the more traditional April.

Image: Bernard Gustin (left) and Michel Meyfroidt (right) new managing directors of Brussels Airlines
Bernard Gustin (left) and Michel Meyfroidt (right) at a press conference on 11 June to announce their appointment as new managing directors of Brussels Airlines.

Barcelona #1 route; focus away from competitive hubs

Analysis of the airline’s leading routes (in terms of weekly seat capacity) reveals that the usual suspects (Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London and Paris) are conspicuous by their absence. Part of this is down to geography (Brussels is just 160 kilometres from Amsterdam and 250 kilometres from Paris) but Frankfurt and London are served just twice daily in the face of stiff competition from Lufthansa, British Airways and bmi British Midland. Instead the airline focuses more on major destinations in Spain and Italy and non-hub airports.

Chart: Top 12 destinations for Brussels Airlines
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 30 June 2008

Barcelona may be the airline’s number one route but it competes against not one, but two Spanish LCCs, as clickair and Vueling both operate the route.

The airline is one of the few to still make the most of Berlin Tempelhof (before it closes later this year) thanks to its Avro RJs, which are ideally suited to operations there. During the last year the airline has only added two new destinations – Bujumbura (in Burundi) and Ljubljana. The airline’s long-haul network is heavily focused on Africa, a legacy of Belgium’s colonial involvement in the continent.

Image: Brussels Airlines - The Africa Specialist

Avoiding too much competition where possible

Despite offering just one-third of seat capacity at Brussels Zaventum Airport (BRU), Brussels Airlines currently has a monopoly on 29 of its routes from BRU while a further 22 routes have just one scheduled competitor leaving just nine routes with two competitors. These are Barcelona, Copenhagen, Kinshasa, Milan Linate, Milan Malpensa, Oslo, Prague, Rome Fiumicino and Vienna.

LCCs have a small but growing share of the BRU market as Aer Lingus, Atlas Blue, clickair, easyJet,, SkyEurope, Sterling and Vueling all operate routes to the airport. Brussels Airlines is not currently a member of any of the major airline alliances instead relying on code-shares (such as with Jet Airways to India and the USA) to enhance its network offering.


  1. James says:

    On Stockholm they are competing with SAS and Sterling …. but Brussels Airlines fly to Bromma so I guess that is why you don’t list it. Interestingly Ryanair pulled out of this market… They used to fly Charleroi – Skavsta. replies: James, you are quite right. Brussels Airlines serves Stockholm by serving ‘downtown’ Bromma, once again exploiting its fleet in the same way that it does by serving Tempelhof in Berlin. Lufthansa serves Berlin Tegel from Brussels while easyJet operates Berlin Schoenefeld to Brussels. Ryanair operated between Brussels Charleroi and Stockholm Skavsta between October 2003 and October 2007.

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