Brussels Airport is host of this year’s ACI EUROPE/World General Assembly, Congress & Exhibition. Ahead of the event, Arnaud Feist, CEO Brussels Airport Company, shared some thoughts with Ross Falconer.
It is a landmark year for Brussels Airport, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2018. Over the years, the airport has developed into the second economic engine of the country, employing 20,000 people and accounting for 1.8% of GDP.
“Although Brussels Airport experienced severe setbacks, such as 9/11, the Sabena bankruptcy, or the 2016 terrorist attack, and has to operate in an extremely competitive and dense catchment area, staff always keep a positive mind-set and do their utmost to give our passengers the best possible service,” says Arnaud Feist, CEO Brussels Airport Company. “It is with great pride that this year we hope to reach the level of 25 million passengers in a year, joining the top league of airports.”
Indeed, traffic grew strongly in the first four months of 2018 – by 5% to 2.25 million – putting the airport on course to achieve its 25-million goal. This growth was driven by the strong performance of Brussels Airlines on intra-European destinations and especially by notable growth in intercontinental traffic, thanks to the launch of several new long-haul services – Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong), Emirates (second daily Dubai flight), Hainan Airlines (new Shanghai and Shenzhen routes), Rwandair (Kigali), Qeshm (Tehran), as well as to additional seat capacity from Qatar Airways, Thai Airways International and Ethiopian Airlines.
The leisure segment, including TUI fly, also performed particularly well thanks to the strong recovery of traffic to Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt.
The Brussels Airport strategy is primarily focused on strengthening its position as a key Star Alliance hub. It collaborates strongly with home carrier Brussels Airlines, and the 16 other Star Alliance carriers operating at the airport.
“The extensive network of Brussels Airlines in sub-Sahara Africa offers a unique advantage for the Star Alliance carriers,” Feist explains. “We also continue to work closely with other airlines to further build our long-haul network. It is no secret that we eye new routes to the Americas, such as Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, San Francisco or Los Angeles, and Sao Paulo. In Africa, Johannesburg and Lagos are on our list, as are Asian destinations such as Delhi, Singapore, Seoul, Manila, and second tier cities in China.”
Intra-European flows, however, bring the highest traffic volumes, and the airport works closely with all European airlines, be it legacy, low-cost or leisure, to further improve the network. The entry of carriers such as WOW Air in 2017 and Georgian Airways in 2018 are testament to this successful approach.
Indeed, BRU’s progressive route development strategy was recently recognised with the overall Routes Europe Marketing Award 2018. “We have a very attractive incentive scheme for new destinations with a direct rebate on passenger charges for three years,” says Feist. “Long-haul routes receive a rebate of €15 in the first year and €10 and €5 in the second and third years. Short-haul routes receive a rebate of €10 for three consecutive years. In 2016, we also introduced a growth incentive scheme, as we want to reward those airlines that bring additional frequencies and seats to Brussels Airport, or succeed in growing their load factors. There is a €10 rebate on passenger charges for one year.”
BRU also works closely with the tourism authorities of Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia to bring more visitors to Belgium.
Major investment and Strategic Vision 2040
The airport is building on its route development and traffic successes with significant infrastructure investment. It has launched a long-term €52 million investment plan to replace all boarding bridges at Pier B, which handles most intercontinental flights. The first phase was recently completed with the installation of a triple boarding bridge capable of accommodating the A380. Replacement of the 22 other boarding bridges in Pier B will commence at the end of 2018. To maintain full operational capacity, the work will be rolled out in phases, with the project completed around 2022.
Meanwhile, three large-scale ongoing projects include construction of two new state-of-the-art fire stations that will be inaugurated after this summer; the €100 million development of the west side of the BRUcargo area, where construction of the first 50,000sqm building has already started; and a €100 million investment to prepare for the new European standard – Standard 3 – in hold baggage screening, which involves the purchase of new screening devices and construction of a new baggage hall.
Looking further ahead, BRU’s Strategic Vision 2040 will take full speed from 2020. “The runway infrastructure will need to be upgraded in order to step up capacity during peak hours, and to ensure the same capacity under all weather conditions. The airport is looking at two options: an extension of the taxiway alongside runway 07R/25L, or an extension of the runway itself,” Feist explains. “Two additional piers are to be built: Pier A West by 2023 and Pier C by 2035.”
Another strategic project is the Airport Business District, which is located within walking distance of the terminal. The first two buildings are already rented out to Deloitte, KPMG, Microsoft and Tribes, with 3,000 employees onsite.
“Our Strategic Vision 2040 unlocks the potential of an additional 10,000 jobs over the next five years and will add a total of 60,000 jobs by 2040,” Feist adds. “It is crucial that this growth is achieved via a balanced approach that considers both the economic development of the airport and environmental sustainability.”
Indeed, Feist is passionate about environmental innovation. BRU is on the cusp of becoming carbon neutral. “We are committed to only buying green energy and have two large solar panels that produce the equivalent of the yearly energy consumption of 800 families, or 3% of our own electricity use.”
The airport has also purchased 30 electric buses and installed electric charging points, while 40 service vehicles have been replaced in the last two years with vehicles running on natural gas.
“In the future, we foresee innovating and taking further measures to reduce noise pollution,” says Feist. “We want to extend our photovoltaic park. When renovating buildings, we explore every possibility to install solar panels, LED lighting or high-performance insulation. We are also installing a cogeneration device – a gas engine to produce electricity.”
Mission: develop prototypes, test digital features
Warming to the theme of innovation, Feist expands on the efforts being made to enhance passenger experience. “The Brussels Airport app is a must-have for all passengers. It allows 24/7 access to real-time information about flights, parking options, waiting times at security, and wayfinding. Travellers can also download vouchers and receive special offers from restaurants and shops at the airport.”
Meanwhile, during peak hours, the BRUce Pepper robot helps travellers find their way around the airport, reads boarding passes and informs passengers of their gate number, estimated time of departure and even the weather at their destination.
“We have dedicated teams constantly on the lookout for any technological solution that could facilitate our passengers’ journey,” Feist explains. “Their mission is to develop prototypes and test numerous digital features. For example, we recently upgraded our WiFi network throughout the airport, tested a new Messenger chatbot, and are reviewing a free entertainment platform.”
Delegates at this year’s ACI EUROPE/World General Assembly, Congress & Exhibition will experience many of these innovations for themselves. “As host, we hope our guests will experience the very best of Belgian hospitality, culture and gastronomy. In this important year, our guests will be welcomed with a real showcase of 60 years of Brussels Airport.”
Brussels Airport factbox
2017: 24.8 million passengers
2017 passenger traffic growth: 13.6%
2018 passenger traffic growth (Jan-April): 5.1%
Key airline customers: Brussels Airlines, Ryanair, Lufthansa, TUI fly, SAS
Number of routes: 238
Top 5 destinations: Madrid, London Heathrow, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Geneva