The Belgian leisure airline market is set for a major shake-up following Sobelair's failure to conclude a merger with one of the country's other carriers and travel giant TUI's decision to launch its own local charter airline, writes Herman de Wulf.Sobelair's chief executive Luc Mellaerts resigned last week after a row with the airline's 75% shareholder Aldo Vastapane. This followed a charter flight carrying UK troops to Iraq last month being found by Belgian aviation authorities to be lacking war risk insurance for the crew.

Vastapane is trying to sell his holding after efforts to merge with either SN Brussels Airlines or Virgin Express were rebuffed. He had taken control in 2001 after the bankruptcy of parent company Sabena, but has failed in his efforts to reduce lease rates.

TUI, which provides 70% of Sobelair's revenue, has launched its own Belgian charter airline as a "precaution". The airline will start flying early next year with two narrowbodies - probably Boeing 737s.

TUI Belgium chief executive Bart Brackx says he will honour its Sobelair contract, which runs to 2007.

Source: Flight International