By Helen Massy-Beresford, ATW
New Belgian airline, Air Belgium, said it would delay its first flight to Hong Kong from April 30 to June 3 as it has not yet received permission to fly through Russian airspace.
Air Belgium CEO Niky Terzakis said: "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 the Russian airspace is unavoidable. Air Belgium did secure all other required permits well in advance. However, the Russian permit has not yet been granted."
"In addition to the uncertainty created by the above, the complicated and delayed GDS [Global Distribution Systems] implementation, has also prevented Chinese tourist groups from being directed to our flights," Terzakis added.
The airline has informed all affected passengers by email and will phone them all individually to offer either a seat on another airline's flight, a deferred travel date with Air Belgium including financial compensation or full reimbursement, Air Belgium said.
"This was a hard call to make considering the market expectations, but we take the protection of our travelers' interests to heart. In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to obtain the overflight permit as fast as possible and to support tour operators in making the necessary arrangements in time," Terzakis said.
The startup airline hopes to have flights to seven destinations--six in mainland China plus Hong Kong--operating by this fall and will operate from Brussels South Charleroi Airport.
It has been set up with backing from China's largest travel agency, UTour, which expects to feed it with passengers, according to an industry source in China familiar with the business plan.
UTour's equity interest in the airline is indirect; the Chinese company is not listed among the direct shareholders.
The carrier expects to have a fleet of four Airbus A340-300s, all leased from Airbus, ready to operate by July following cabin reconfigurations and is already in talks about expanding its fleet beyond that.