SN Brussels Airlines launched long-haul services last week, following the approval of Belgian start-up Birdy Airlines, which is flying the routes on behalf of the reincarnated Sabena.

Birdy, which has been formed by former City Bird executives Victor Hasson and Georges Gutelman, received last-minute clearance from Belgium's civil aviation administration to launch operations from Brussels to African points on 26 April, with its air operator's certificate (AOC) awarded on the evening of the day before.

There had been concern that the airline would not have an AOC in time - and with initial flights already sold out, sources say a back-up plan had been prepared to transport passengers to Paris by high-speed train to connect with Air France services.

The airline is operating two ex-Sabena Airbus A330-300s for SN under a wet-lease agreement. Birdy will add a third A330 on SN routes in June. The 264-seaters are initially flying to Banjul, Gambia; Conakry, Guinea; Dakar, Senegal; Entebbe, Uganda; Kigali, Rwanda; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Monrovia, Liberia; and Nairobi, Kenya. Frequencies will be increased in June, when Douala and Yaounde in Cameroon, and Luanda, Angola, will be added to the network.

Meanwhile, SN president Rob Kuijpers is forecasting break-even by the end of the year, as he reports rising load factors - 52% this month - and improved yields have made the airline €25 million ($22 million) cash since starting operations in November.

The airline, which was previously Sabena's regional division Delta Air Transport, is now operating its fleet of six BAe 146s and26 BAE Avro RJs to 35 European destinations.

Source: Flight International