Van Gaever planning new carrier - VG Airlines - to serve long haul routes from Brussels after Sabena demise

Freddy Van Gaever, the former boss of Belgian regionals Delta Air Transport (DAT) and VLM, has made a bid to fill the void left by Sabena's bankruptcy.

The Belgian businessman has been in talks with Sabena receivers and is negotiating with two prospective investors in the new DAT, bank tycoons Viscount Etienne Davignon and Count Maurice Lippens, over an investment of Bfr500 million ($11 million) in a new airline.

Van Gaever has already applied for an air operator certificate (AOC) from Belgium's civil aviation administration. However, to speed up the launch date, he has offered to buy two Airbus 340 aircraft from Sabena's receivers in exchange for a transfer of the Sabena AOC to his new VG Airlines.

Van Gaever says he wants to begin long-haul services from Brussels to Los Angeles and San Francisco on 22 April and may serve New York and Boston if Sabena's successor DAT Plus backs off from flying these routes. He has taken options on two ex-Sabena Airbus A330s for this eventuality.

"I have no intention to do what others do," Van Gaever says. "I'll leave European services to Virgin Express and Delta Air Transport.

I want to provide long-haul service to the USA. Everything is in place to start operations: aircraft, expertise, competent staff and Sabena Technics for maintenance. All I need is an AOC." If VG Airlines takes off, the carrier will exclusively hire former Sabena employees.

Virgin Express and DAT have meanwhile begun co-operating, with codeshare agreements to an array of European destinations, including London Heathrow. This is seen as a preliminary move to a merger after 9 December - the date when DAT, operating under receivership as part of the Sabena Group, will be put up for sale.

DAT has been using a Bfr 5 billion bridging credit provided originally by the Belgian Government to Sabena and transferred to DAT when Sabena was declared bankrupt on 6 November.

The airline resumed operating a limited network of 35 destinations in Europe, but has been suffering from an average load factor as low as 10% as a result of confusion over where to buy tickets and at what price. DAT hopes a recent low fare promotional drive will increase load factors although seat occupancy has already increased to around 50%, according to some reports.

In the meantime, Sabena Technics has announced that it is making 30% of its workforce redundant as part of a restructuring plan to cope with the loss of business from Sabena.

Although the company had been making efforts to grow third party work, the Belgian airline still represented 37% of Sabena Technics' turnover when the airline went bust.

The company says it is continuing to identify potential buyers and is in advanced discussions with a number of investors. It expects to reach an agreement "in principle" by the end of the year.

Source: Flight International