Finance minister to meet Lufthansa boss over future of Brussels Airlines
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    Finance minister to meet Lufthansa boss over future of Brussels Airlines

    Finance minister Alexander De Croo. © Belga

    Federal finance minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) will meet with Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr in Brussels on Friday, to try to find a solution to the problem of the planned loss of 1,000 jobs at Brussels Airlines.

    Brussels Airlines, a subsidiary of the German airline group Lufthansa, yesterday announced a restructuring plan which would involve the loss of one in four jobs and a reduction in the airline’s fleet, as well as the scrapping of 24 destinations.

    The two sides are currently involved in difficult negotiations regarding the future of Brussels Airlines, which has been badly hit by the coronavirus and the effect on international travel. Flights have been suspended since March 21 and will not resume before May 31, if then.

    But those negotiations are unlikely to be helped along by the announcement on Tuesday by Brussels Airlines CEO Dieter Vranckx. The airline is asking for €290 million in aid from the government while getting rid of 1,000 jobs. Vranckx described the aid as “a guarantee of security for the 75% of jobs that remain”.

    In the meantime, trade unions have predicted the restructuring will have repercussions far beyond the 1,000 job losses – some of which are bound to be forced redundancies.

    Brussels Airlines is responsible by itself for 40% of traffic at Brussels Airport. On top of that, many foreign airlines fly to Brussels because of the connection with an international carrier like Brussels Airlines. If part of that traffic disappears, those airlines might well choose to use another airport for forwarding passengers, with severe consequences for the entire airport.

    At their meeting on Friday, De Croo will demand clarity from Spohr on Lufthansa’s plans for Brussels Airlines, and for a commitment by the German group on the Belgian airline’s future.

    You can’t demand an effort from the employees and the Belgian government unless you make some promises,” De Croo told the VRT.

    But the Belgian government has been here before. In late 2016, Brussels Airlines was on the brink of going down for the third time when Lufthansa appeared as a possible rescuer. The Germans were prepared to take a 100% stake in the floundering airline, but when the government demanded certain assurances, Lufthansa refused outright, and the government was obliged to withdraw.

    De Croo is committed to avoiding a repeat of that scenario, and will try to use the €290 million in aid to get his way.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times