CityBird threatens Sabena

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The dispute between Belgian independent CityBird and its shareholder Sabena has reached a new low, with CityBird planning to file a complaint with the European Commission against what it says is unfair competition.

The move follows a row between the carriers over whether CityBird should have notified Sabena about plans to start flying the Kinshasa-Brussels route on behalf of Lignes Aeriennes Congolaises (LAC), the national carrier of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sabena says it has a contract requiring notification of any competitive changes and has filed a complaint with the Belgian Civil Aviation Administration over the LAC tie-up. The dispute is to be decided by a local arbitration court.

CityBird says the Sabena attitude is "monopolistic" and contrary to free market competition. As an independent, it has the right to do business and sign wet-lease contracts with others, it says.

Sabena has recently disposed of 2.3% of its 11.2% holding in CityBird, a move which the national airline claims was unconnected to its dispute. Victor Hassan, CityBird's chief executive, says the sale, which led to the share price plummeting, is "part of Sabena's policy of damaging CityBird"

The Brussels-Kinshasa weekly service began on 17 May, offering competition on what has been a high-yield route for Sabena.

CityBird also has a five-year contract to fly Sabena routes to Montreal and New York Newark with Boeing MD-11s and 767-300ERs. It also operates its own flights to the USA and one Luxembourg-New York service under a wet-lease agreement with Luxair.

Sabena expects LAC will soon allow CityBird to expand services to other African destinations, developing Kinshasa into an African hub.