UGANDA (eTN) – The timing of Brussels Airlines (SN) CEO Bernard Gustin’s visit to Uganda for a media blitz was certainly intriguing as far as the timing was concerned, falling half way between the launch of flights by Qatar Airways in early November and by Gulf Air in early December.
SN has been flying to East Africa already in the old “Savoir Vivre” days of Sabena, and when Swissair had brought the Belgian flag carrier to its knees, the new Brussels Airlines resumed flights to Entebbe as one of the first destinations on the African continent. That presence and history stands undisputed, though questions remain why the airline currently flies only three times a week between Brussels and Entebbe, admittedly soon restoring the fourth flight, which for the off-peak season was taken temporarily off the schedule, while rivals KLM are now up to 5 times a week.
The arrival of new A330 aircraft on the fleet have certainly boosted SN’s capacity to increase their flights, and in particular West African destinations have benefitted from that development, though East Africa still sees room for a greater presence by SN, the only airline to connect East Africa directly to the European capital city of Brussels.
Bernard Gustin brought good news with him to Kampala, namely that the airline had signed an agreement with the American authorities over the anti-trust regulations, and will commence nonstop flights between Brussels and New York in early 2012, with other Star Alliance partners joining as codeshare partners. An additional A330 will join the fleet by then, giving East Africans, and in turn Americans, the added option of flying either to the “Big Apple” [New York, USA] or else come to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, or Burundi for holidays or on business.
As mentioned before, the timing was certainly interesting for this visit, clearly aimed to “show flag” in the face of Qatar Airways having started daily flights, while Gulf will soon add 4 of its own, bringing further competition to a market already generously endowed with flights, and with sales personnel working the market hard in order to fill their planes.
When asked about the competition with the Gulf-based airlines, Bernard Gustin was as outspoken as one is used to from Qatar Airways’ Al Baker, saying: “It is hard to compete with airlines where profit is not the main objective. These airlines are tools by their governments which own them, and take advantage of cheaper fuel cost in their home countries and the freedoms granted to them to fly almost anywhere, before their true intent became clear.”
When asked further about the level playing field between European and Gulf-based carriers, Bernard Gustin also laid heavily into the EU administration over the forthcoming ETS, which he considered misguided and only an added cost factor without channeling any of those funds back into the aviation sector. Al Baker, while recent in Kampala, had told this correspondent that such taxes were “bullshit,” a sentiment echoed in Bernard Gustin’s response, too.
“The European governments and the EU have to make up their mind what sort of aviation industry they want” clearly expressing his sentiments also over the almost free access by Gulf carriers to the European markets, free of the constraints heaped upon home based airlines by over taxation, operating restrictions at airports and other regulatory requirements and dictates.
Commendably, though, Brussels Airlines stood up to be counted and showed that they continue to be “Passionate about Africa,” also demonstrated by an entire crew being at hand in greeting arriving guests and then performing a “mock service” with the distribution of face towels and drinks to the sizeable crowd, which made the way to the Kabira Country Club on a Friday evening.
The night also saw the last appearance in SN colors by outgoing Country Sales Manager Roger Wamara, who will join Qatar Airways next week. Guest of honor for the night was Tourism Minister Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu, who commended the airline for their long association with Uganda while expressing his, and everyone else’s, hopes that one day soon Brussels Airlines will also come daily to “the Pearl of Africa.”