€189 million in the red: Brussels Airlines still struggling to recover pandemic losses

€189 million in the red: Brussels Airlines still struggling to recover pandemic losses
© Brussels Airlines

Belgian airline company Brussels Airlines is still recovering from heavy losses sustained during the Covid-19 pandemic, ending 2021 in the red by €189 million.

This year’s goal is simply to break even, but Belgium's national airline is optimistic about its prospects after seeing a revenue improvement of 35% compared to the 2020 pandemic year.

“2021 was another year marked by the Covid pandemic and a year that still required a high level of resilience,” the company said in a press release.

“The year started with a very limited flight schedule, in line with the low market demand due to high infection rates and lockdowns all over Europe, followed by a three-month travel ban issued by the Belgian government. This travel ban heavily impacted Brussels Airlines’ first quarter.”

They’d expected their losses, though say these were limited in part due to their Reboot Plus transformation plan and “strict cash management.”

Cutting costs at the expense of employees

Operating expenses were up by just 5%, while passenger numbers rose by 47% to 3.5 million.

But one reason the airline was able to accomplish the low operating costs was as a result of staff cuts that have severely undermined relationships with unionised workers, who went on strike during the pandemic.

“The pressure on the staff doesn't stop,” Didier Lebbe, secretary general of the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CNE), told Le Soir.

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Lebbe warned that recruitment of much-needed staff will also be difficult for budget airline Ryanair, which “was threatening the staff, reducing their salaries [and] putting pressure on them all the time,” causing many employees to leave just ahead of what’s expected to be a busy summer season.

“It seems that the two companies are competing to see who will be the cheapest. Ryanair and Lufthansa also have the same social policy, and it's going to end badly. The unions are often blamed for fanning the flames, but here I am trying to put out the social fire.”

Ukraine uncertainty could raise costs

Airlines are also likely to face increased costs as a result of the war in Ukraine, which has driven up inflation and energy costs for ordinary people living in Belgium already.

Ryanair says it has fuel reserves enough to last through summer, though Lebbe thinks the greater challenges for them will be related to staff relations.

He warns that very few Belgians apply to work for the airlines, and issues with recruitment will only worsen amid social unrest and a system that “risks breaking down during the summer period” when travel is expected to boom.

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