Air Belgium, based in Brussels, plans to establish two lines to South Africa in September, with up to three flights per week travelling to Cape Town and Johannesburg simultaneously. The airline's ambition to offer direct flights to the United States, among other planned route extensions, is a step forward in this regard.
Since the second half of last year, Air Belgium has been on a relatively ambitious journey, replacing its older fleet of quadjet Airbus A340s with newer-generation Airbus A330 Neos and rethinking air cargo operations as the contract between Air Belgium and French shipping company CMA CGM expires at the end of this year.
As a result, the Belgian airline teamed up with Hongyuan, a Beijing-based cross-border trade integrated service provider that picked Brussels Airport as its European headquarters in 2020. Hongyuan became a stakeholder in Air Belgium as a result of the collaboration, with the Belgian airline holding a tiny majority of the shares to ensure its position as a European carrier, as acknowledged by Walloon minister Elio Di Rupo, "The Chinese group Hongyuan plans to take up to 49% of the capital of the Belgian airline Air Belgium within the framework of a capital increase operation, thus leaving 51% in the hands of the current shareholders."
The shareholding agreement appears to make sense, as it has a similar aim of focusing on cargo. Furthermore, the Hongyuan Group has invested a capital increase of about €19.3 million (US$21.21 million) in Air Belgium through the ownership arrangement, which is a much-needed cash to enable the airline to make strategic growth decisions.
Air Belgium's fleet will be somewhat upgraded as a result of the capital investment, with two ex-Saudia Boeing 787-8 freighters being added. By September, the fleet will be made up of eleven planes, four of which will be passenger planes. By the end of the year, the fleet plans to acquire more Airbus A330-200 freighters from CMA CGM, all of which will be painted in a combination of Air Belgium and Hongyuan colours.