SN Brussels Airlines, the regional airline formed out of the collapse of Belgian flag carrier Sabena, is to start operating mainline aircraft for the first time.

The carrier is to lease three 132-seat Airbus A319s from next April. The aircraft will enable SN Brussels to take on European destinations it currently serves via a codeshare deal with Virgin Express. SN Brussels is based on the 32 Avro regional aircraft fleet of the former DAT, Sabena's regional subsidiary.

It is also considering services beyond central Europe from 2003, with possible destinations including Athens, Tel Aviv and Istanbul, with the line-up decided by year-end.

The new aircraft will come onstream just as the wide-ranging codeshare agreement with Brussels-based low-cost carrier Virgin Express comes to an end. At the moment flights to Rome, Barcelona, Madrid and Nice are operated by Virgin Express under the codeshare, while SN Brussels flies services to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Gothenburg on the same basis. When the agreement is terminated at the end of March next year, SN Brussels will continue to operate on all routes either on its own or with partners, competing head-to-head with the low-cost carrier.

Both airlines have insisted that they can survive in this environment, arguing that they offer different products. SN Brussels is focusing on business traffic, while Virgin Express is more geared towards budget travellers.

The codeshare agreement between the two carriers on the Brussels-London Heathrow route ended in October. SN Brussels is now codesharing with British Airways on this route, with all nine daily services operated by the UK flag carrier. The Belgian carrier also has codeshares in place with BA's oneworld partners American Airlines and Iberia.

Source: Airline Business