Ryanair in Brussels: are Europe’s skies becoming low-cost?

  • A “half-empty” airport and a “too small” Brussels Airlines: Ryanair comes to Brussels Airport and shakes up Belgian skies.
  • The arrival of the low-cost Irish airline on the Brussels tarmac risks two collateral victims: Brussels Airlines and Charleroi Airport. Both say they are calm about these new developments.

“I called the head of Brussels Airport this morning, and he was thrilled with the news, ecstatic. Even his Rice Krispies seemed happy…” Brussels Airport will have to get used to the ironic tone and manners of the ebullient head of Ryanair, the low-cost company that will roll out on the Brussels tarmac beginning February 28, 2014. Michael O’Leary confirmed that he will base four Boeing 737s, each with a 189-seat capacity, at Brussels Airport to serve 10 destinations – 2 in Italy, 6 in Spain and 2 in Portugal. Ryanair should bring 1.5 million additional passengers to Zaventem. That’s enough to seduce the airport’s managers, even though Zaventem was formerly a national facility.

O’Leary has announced that tickets will go on sale from Thursday with a defined schedule, before even negotiating landing rights and times, called “slots.” “Obtaining open slots in a half-empty airport is not the problem,” Ryanair’s boss continues. Until now, he compared Zaventem to a “marble palace filled with useless space that charges airlines very high prices.” He recognizes that he will pay the same airport taxes as the other companies, even if that hits him in his pride (€29 per passenger at Zaventem versus €2 at Charleroi.) “Zaventem’s prices were too expensive before we got here and they’re still too expensive now that we’ve arrived…” As to competition with Brussels Airlines: “I’m not going to double or triple my prices to compete with them …Anyway, Brussels isn’t our target, it’s too small to bother us.” Ryanair carries 81 million passengers, Vueling 14.8 million and Brussels Airlines “only” 5.7 million.

“We won’t withdraw anything from Charleroi, which remains our primary base in Belgium. The flights that we will propose to start with at Brussels will be more expensive than those at Charleroi, but less so than those of Brussels Airlines and Alitalia.” O’Leary never mentions Vueling, the Spanish competition that also serves Rome and Brussels. No doubt it’s the expansion of that low-cost company, backed by Iberia and British Airways, which Ryanair’s new strategy is targeting. On the whole, starting prices proposed by Ryanair from Brussels will be half as expensive as those of its traditional competitors and approximately twice as much as those from Charleroi. That was verified through prices posted online.

Walloons are attempting to remain calm as Ryanair arrives on the “national” tarmac. Minister André Antoine repeated that he wants Michael O’Leary (whom he will meet next week) to guarantee the level of volume at Charleroi. Antoine recognizes that things were better in the past and that airports must “share the skies, be at peace in the skies. We each have our corner of the sky: long-haul flights at Zaventem, low-cost at Charleroi. Now that Zaventem has been opened up to low-cost carriers, Ryanair has swallowed it up.” He didn’t mention that Vueling and Easy Jet have served Brussels for several years and that low-cost is a reality across all of Europe.

Brussels Airlines views the announcement of Ryanair’s arrival at Zaventem as a challenge, a stimulus. “For almost every destination we serve, we already face competition from at least one low-cost operator, either directly at Brussels or from a nearby regional airport,” says Wencke Lemmes, the company’s spokesperson. “We already coexist with Ryanair, which serves 5.5 million passengers at Charleroi. Here, we take Ryanair’s arrival as a challenge to better show and exploit the differences in our model, and for once, under the same airport cost conditions.” In the media, Brussels Airlines president Etienne Davignon adds that working conditions for staff are not the same in Belgium as in Ireland. Europe has given Ryanair a ten-year grace period before imposing comparable conditions for everyone.

Finally, at Charleroi Airport, where Ryanair’s arrival in Brussels has been known about since the beginning of the week, people are aware that its impact will be felt, but when? They are also counting on the low-cost model and its speed of adaptation to react to the change.

For those passengers who are wondering what name Ryanair will give to its Brussels base, knowing that Charleroi is called “Brussels South,” it won’t be Charleroi North but simply Brussels Zaventem.



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One Response to Ryanair in Brussels: are Europe’s skies becoming low-cost?

  1. Paul says:

    Would Mr. Eric Renette asking whether there would be two Collateral victims, “Brussels Airlines” and “Charleroi” be tantamount to the question “what came first, the egg or the chicken”?

    Can Mr. O’Leary’s airline by held accounted for both hypothetical victims?

    For one, Brussels Airlines was in trouble already before Ryanair arrived in Zaventem (they, in fact, still haven’t arrived there), whereas Charleroi needs no further introduction (and are, in fact, still there).

    Writing is a relatively easy thing to do, running an airline, or an airport, is another cup of tea. What I perceive, is a bunch of (mostly WalloBrux) politicians pointing at moving objects, pretending their fingers to be flak.

    I’m sure Mr. O’Leary greatly enjoys their display of gesticulations, same as Mr. Davignon’s verbal displays of impotence.

    Ryanair have been the subject of repeated hate-mail from the usual suspects. Let them do business, for crying out loud!

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