anna.aero meets with the CEO of Brussels Airlines, Bernard Gustin, at the launch of the carrier’s services to Accra
This week, anna.aero’s Assistant Editor, Jonathan Ford, was invited along to the launch of Brussels Airlines launch of services to Accra from the Belgian capital on 26 October. While at the inauguration ceremony, he was fortunate enough to be introduced to the airline’s CEO, Bernard Gustin, who was on hand to give a speech to the awaiting passengers about how important it was for the Star Alliance member to have Ghana back on its network using its own aircraft. Once he had given his speech and helped to cut the inaugural cake along with Arnaud Feist, Brussels Airport CEO, and Yaw Bimpong, Ambassador for Ghana to Belgium, he sat down and spoke to Ford about the carrier’s future plans.
anna.aero: So Bernard, today we have seen the launch of services to Accra from Brussels, Why is Africa so important to Brussels Airlines’ network?
Bernard Gustin: It is essential to our network. Africa is the next big thing in aviation. Since our days of being known as Sabena, we have doubled the size of our operation which includes Africa and our brand of Brussels Airlines is very well known in the region. As you can see today with this sell out flight to Accra, our services to Africa are very popular. We have been in Africa since the beginning and we have never ended services to key markets. Even with the recent outbreak of Ebola, we stayed committed to Western Africa to ensure that the region still had direct links to Europe and on to further markets in North America and Asia through our code-share partners. Africa is also a very important connection for our passengers originating in North America and Europe.
aa: As you have stated, Africa is the next big thing in aviation, so where is likely to be next on the continent for Brussel Airlines to serve?
BG: At the moment it is hard to see where we could grow but the growth will come. It would also be a big mistake for us to grow without restructuring our product. One of the biggest mistakes that airlines make is to expand without regenerating their product to move forward. At the moment we only have eight long-haul aircraft, with six operating services to Africa and the other two to North America, so currently it is a bit tight for us to find additional capacity to serve new markets. That is why a majority of our routes to Western Africa our operated on triangle services with two destinations instead of just one. What I do know though is that our growth will not be in South Africa. Our A330 long-haul fleet does not have the range and capabilities of the new next-gen aircraft that are currently rolling off the production line. We also like to have our aircraft back within the same day so that we can offer a convenient schedule for our connection strategy for European and US routes.
aa: As well as Africa, you have also recently re-introduced services to the US. Is the airline eyeing further growth in North America?
BG: We welcomed services back to New York JFK in 2012 and they have proved to be very successful and we now serve Washington with a seasonal service. North America is the second largest market for Belgium behind Europe so of course it is great that we now serve the region. The greatest thing for us in the relation to the North American market is that we are part of Star Alliance. It is very important for us to be part of this group of carriers, as with United Airlines serving the US from Brussels we are able to be part of their network. This helps with us being able to grow in the US as well as through these code-share agreements with other carriers. We know that the US is an important market for us as we have strong connectivity traffic between our US and African routes. We see ourselves as a well-placed geographical airline that is able to connect the two continents. However, at the moment with much of our revenue being Euro driven, expansion in the US is more likely to come when the US dollar becomes stronger.
aa: We have recently seen that the airline has announced services to Belfast City. Where else in Europe is the airline looking to expand to?
BG: In Europe, we face strong competition from LCCs, this is why we are starting to utilise our A319 and A320 fleet more on European routes so that we can compete with them. Last year we added new services to Poland and we have recently added Bremen to our network. We have also recently added a summer service to Dubrovnik. Of course there are many other destinations that we would like to serve in Europe but we also have to make the most of our hard working fleet, so before a major expansion programme on the continent can be implemented, we need to think of re-inventing the airline for growth in mind.
aa: So we have mentioned that Brussels Airlines is competing with LCCs in Europe. Is being part of Star Alliance important to the airline in order to compete with them?
BG: It is very important to be part of Star Alliance. Seeing that logo on the side of the aircraft is a sign of quality, that is what differentiates us from LCCs is being able to display that logo. In order to fight low-cost, you need to be different and offer a different product which being a Star member, allows us to do this. In order to grow connectivity traffic for the airline we need to be part of the group to enhance indirect traffic and feed it onto our own network. Take yesterday as an example. It was not only significant for All Nippon Airways to start services to Brussels, but it was also very important for us as it now allows Brussels Airlines through a code-share to have Japan on our route map and grow connectivity traffic between Europe, Africa and Japan. Being part of the alliance helps us to be in markets where our aircraft would struggle to get to.
Brussels Airlines launches services to Accra
Services to Accra were last operated by the carrier in 2011 after switching services with Lufthansa in exchange for an operation to Nairobi. However, after discussions the airlines have decided to swap the routes back. When Ford was speaking to Phillippe Saeys-Desmedt, VP Sales Africa & Cargo Global, he mentioned that it was great for the airline to have Accra on its network instead of the Kenyan capital: “For Brussels Airlines, the biggest market for us in Africa is Western Africa, where the airline’s product is much better known. We are not so well known in Eastern Africa so from our point of view strategically, it was much better to have Accra in our network than Nairobi.” Saeys-Desmedt was also on the inaugural flight, where he would be holding a series of meetings with Accra airport on arrival.