A new route from the UK's south coast to Brussels would under normal circumstances barely rate a mention. But VLM's immediate takeover of the Southampton-Brussels route abandoned by British Airways is the latest opportunistic foray into the UK market by the Dutch-owned Belgian carrier, which is already the largest operator at London City airport. The turboprop operator makes over 70% of its revenue from UK services.

Almost the entire growth at London City came from VLM's hub operation at the docklands airport, says managing director Johan Vanneste. VLM links London City with Liverpool, Manchester, Jersey, Antwerp, Brussels, Hamburg, Luxembourg and Rotterdam and is looking at 20 more airports for possible expansion, half of which are in the UK, Vanneste says. "We will stay away from hub airports and continue to focus on smaller regional airports, which will enable us to offer a time-saving product to our passengers," he adds.

Vanneste also sees further opportunities at Brussels, which now has few turboprop flights, but plenty of spare capacity to accommodate VLM's Fokker 50 fleet at gate positions, avoiding terminal transfers from remote stands. The niche airline has resisted the temptation to reinvent itself as a low-fare carrier and focuses strongly on business traffic, which accounts for 83% of its passengers. "I believe there is a public that wants a better service and is willing to pay extra," says Vanneste.

VLM has had seven consecutive profitable years. Last year it saw a 28% passenger increase, to 550,000, and a 26% rise in revenues, to €73 million ($96 million). With two further routes likely to be added this year, the carrier is looking at expanding its 14-strong Fokker 50 fleet. Over the next two years, new types will be evaluated, including regional jets. However, moving to jet aircraft may prove too expensive and a step too far, says Vanneste.

Source: Airline Business