Barely two months into its launch, Air Belgium has postponed the launch of its first service – between Hong Kong and Brussels – after failing to obtain the required Russian airspace permit in time for the initial commencement date.
The launch of this four-times weekly service to Brussels South Airport was initially announced for April 30, but has now been pushed back to June 3.
The airline’s CEO Niky Terzakis explained in a statement: “At this date and despite all efforts of our teams and the Belgian authorities, we are still expecting to receive the overflight permit from the Russian Authorities, knowing that overflying through Russian airspace is unavoidable.
“In addition to the uncertainty created by the above, the complicated and delayed GDS implementation has also prevented Chinese tourists groups from being directed to our flights.”
An Air Belgium spokesman added that the flights were initially scheduled with a “relatively short lead time”, and expressed confidence in obtaining the Russian Overflight Permit in time for June 3. It will take a matter of days, not weeks, he remarked.
The spokesperson also shared that the airline has “proactively (offered satisfactory solutions) to impacted passengers”.
A source told TTG Asia that impact on the Hong Kong trade and consumers has been minimal, with agencies such as Premium Holidays and Wincastle Travel (HK) stating no bookings had been made with the airline.
A larger obstacle in the airline’s way is perhaps its lack of brand awareness in Hong Kong.
Premium Holidays, general manager, Simon Wo said: “I heard about the carrier but have no idea (when they were launching the Hong Kong flights). So far, we haven’t make any booking with it as Cathay Pacific kicked off its Hong Kong-Brussels route in late March.”
He added that competition on the route will be considerable as the destination is “not a hot pick” for Hong Kong travellers.
Eliza Li, senior manager for marketing and product, Wincastle Travel (HK), agreed that few clients are aware of Air Belgium as it is a new entrant, adding that longhaul travellers have preference for carriers like Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and Finnair.
Li however suggested: “It’d be great if tourism representatives from Belgium can stage a roadshow in Hong Kong and share some latest travel information with us. From there, we can update our offers and package it with the new carrier’s offers.”
While working with several partners, Air Belgium has also appointed two GSAs in Hong Kong (one each for passengers and cargo). Local sales and marketing campaigns are being rolled out, TTG Asia understands.