Returning Asia Traffic Boosts Brussels Airport


Hainan Airlines is now flying daily between Beijing and Brussels.

Credit: Joe Pries

Brussels Airport (BRU) is preparing for a busy summer season in 2023 as traffic is expected to reach over 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

Management is attributing the surge in traffic to strong short-haul leisure demand and the resumption of flights from Asia.

Léon Verhallen, director of aviation development at the airport, says nine new destinations—including Air Canada’s 5X-weekly service from Toronto Pearson and Vueling’s new routes to Bilbao and Seville—will be added during the season.

Transavia has also based a second aircraft at Brussels Airport, launching flights to Malaga, Seville, Zakynthos and Santorini, while TUI fly is adding service to Al Hoceima and Rabat in Morocco alongside Bejaia, Constantine, Oran and Tlemcen in Algeria. Additionally, Turkish carriers Corendon and SunExpress are growing their presence.

The expansion follows a year when BRU handed almost 19 million passengers—double that of 2021—and scooped the Overall Winner award at the Routes World 2022 Awards in Las Vegas.

“People are unwilling to give up their vacations, even in the face of rising inflation,” Verhallen says. “Despite the high cost of fuel and airline tickets, people are still purchasing tickets to travel. While we may not expect to reach our 2019 figures in 2023, we are getting closer.”

He adds that Mediterranean destinations are proving popular, and that North American traffic has been “booming” since the second half of 2022. Although Asia traffic has recovered much slower, Brussels anticipates strong growth over the coming months, similar to the surge seen in transatlantic traffic.

“Hainan Airlines now flies daily from Brussels to Beijing,” Verhallen says. “We are one of the very few European airports that have a daily Beijing flight as the demand to connect China with Africa on Brussels Airlines’ network is significant.”

All Nippon Airways has also resumed service from Tokyo Narita, although Shanghai and Hong Kong remain absent from Brussels Airport’s route map. In addition, Singapore Airlines has not reactivated plans to launch a Brussels route, originally slated to start in summer 2020, and Thai Airways International is not returning with the route from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi that operated in summer 2022.

Elsewhere, Delta Air Lines has resumed flights from New York John F Kennedy, but service from Atlanta remains on hold. Verhallen therefore highlights Atlanta, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore as white spots. Other target destinations for the Belgian airport include Boston, Delhi, Manila, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Seoul and Taipei.

Verhallen adds that further developing Brussels’ strength in the African market is also key. Lufthansa Group’s Brussels Airlines flies to 17 sub-Saharan destinations, while Air Belgium serves Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, as well as Mauritius.

Sustainability Initiatives

The network ambitions are designed to boost hub performance and form one of BRU’s main priorities as outlined in its SHIFT 2027 strategy, published in 2022. Other pillars include focusing on sustainability and further diversifying its activities.

In April, the airport introduced new sustainability-linked takeoff and landing charges that are calculated according to a formula that factors noise levels, emissions, the time of day and the final destination. Routes shorter than 500 km (311 mi.) face the highest charges, along with older, noisier aircraft.

Although Ryanair has criticized the rise—which amounted to an 11% increase from April 1—Verhallen says that the increase encourages the use of more environmentally friendly aircraft and is set for the next five years, therefore providing certainty for carriers.

In addition to the new charges, Belgium's government introduced a tax last year aimed at encouraging alternatives to short-haul flights. Point-to-point routes to destinations less than 500 km away are now taxed at €10 per passenger, while cities further afield range from €2 to €4.

Verhallen says that the €10 passenger tax has not affected connectivity, as most passengers who travel to and from cities such as London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt connect to onward destinations or transfer via Brussels. Moreover, passengers traveling point-to-point between these cities have high-speed rail options. Verhallen also says that the tax remains lower than those imposed by neighboring countries like the Netherlands and Germany.

Brussels Airport is cooperating with other transport providers, such as shuttle bus company Flibco, to offer alternatives to some short-haul flights. The airport is also avoiding the promotion of routes within 500 km.

David Casey

David Casey is Editor in Chief of Routes, the global route development community's trusted source for news and information.