Two airlines have requested emergency aid worth more than half a billion euros from the Belgian government.
The requests have come from Brussels Airlines, which has asked for €290 million, and from Tui Fly, with a request for €250 million.
The two are not alone. Other companies in the aeronautical sector are also looking towards the government in these difficult times. They include Air Belgium, Sabena Aerospace and baggage handlers Aviapartner and Swissport.
Though active in Belgium, mainly at Brussels Airport, the companies are not all Belgian-owned. Brussels Airlines is a subsidiary of the German airline Lufthansa, Tui Fly of the German travel group Tui.
The difficulties of the sector are in the hands of the government’s Economic Risk Management Group (ERMG) which has the unenviable task of trying to salvage the economy without breaking the bank.
“The whole air travel sector is in crisis and asking for aid,” De Standaard reports one insider saying.
Both Aviapartner and Swissport – both active at Brussels Airport – have been their business cut by 90% since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, as flights were first cut to affected regions of the world, and later from Belgium when the country became an affected region itself.
That compares with the effect of the pandemic on the Belgian economy as a whole, reckoned by the National Bank to be a loss of about one-third. Small and medium-sized enterprises are the hardest-hit; Aviapartner, with a presence at 39 airports and a base in Belgium, is much larger and safer than Swissport, for example.
The paper quotes one expert who advises the government, via the ERMG, to operate strict but tough criteria for state aid.
“Companies that were weak to begin with and who are likely to feel the impact of this crisis for a long time should be avoided,” the expert said.
And that, the paper concludes, is a description that fits many of the applicants for aid from the aeronautical sector.