The first direct air link for more than 20 years between South Africa and Belgium is expected to not only stimulate tourism and investment between the two countries but also forge new gateways into the greater European and African single markets.
Air Belgium’s inaugural Airbus A330neo flight to South Africa touched down to a water cannon salute at OR Tambo International Airport on Thursday (September 15) after an 11,5-hour flight from Brussels. In the new schedule, flights depart Brussels on Wednesdays and Sundays at 19h45 and land in Johannesburg at 07h15 the following day, before continuing on to Cape Town, touching down at 11h00. On Mondays and Thursdays, the return flights depart Cape Town at 15h00, and then leave Johannesburg at 18h45.
With the aircraft’s carrying capacity of 276 passengers (30 seats in business class, 21 in premium economy and 235 in economy), the new flights could potentially transport over 28 000 passengers from and to Belgium annually.
“South Africa has historically been a major tourist destination for Belgium. There are also over 5 700 Belgians living and working in South Africa and it is significant as a market for us. We’re thrilled to introduce South Africans to a new airline and an alternative route – and thereby direct access to the heart of Europe,” said Air Belgium CEO, Niky Terzakis
Air Belgium has also partnered with Airlink to provide connecting flights to 16 domestic destinations and 24 regional destinations on the African continent.
“In addition, with Brussels’ central positioning and connectivity to the rest of Europe through air connections and efficient public transport systems, we are excited for the new opportunities for continental travel on both sides,” said Terzakis.
Belgium is currently South Africa’s sixth-largest trading partner as well as the Western Cape’s seventh-largest European export market, and an important European source market.
Clawing back a top source market
Bart De Wolf, Belgium’s Deputy Head of Mission to South Africa, said the new route would be a catalyst for the recovery of international arrivals from Belgium, which averaged 60 000 a year before COVID.
“We hope the new connection will allow us to reach this number again, and even surpass this. With South Africa home to hundreds of Belgian companies or their subsidiaries, the route will benefit the activities of these businesses, and encourage other companies to select South Africa as a business destination,” said De Wolf.
SA Tourism COO, Nomasonto Ndlovu, pointed out that Air Belgium’s arrival would further the progress made in dispelling the country’s reputation as a hard-to-reach destination. “South Africa is still regarded as a long-haul destination, so when we have another direct flight from the heart of Europe, it is highly significant for us. Direct flights are essential in driving our tourism recovery.” Ndlovu applauded the willingness of Air Belgium to partner with South Africa’s government. “As SA Tourism, it is always beneficial to be able to partner with airlines that see the commercial potential. We are very focused on our airlift strategy, and what we are seeing is a great marriage between two destinations to open up the skies for Africa and Europe.” Speaking at the TBCSA Tourism Leadership Conference in Sun City on Thursday, South Africa’s Deputy Tourism Minister Fish Mahlalela described the Air Belgium deal as a “vote of confidence in our country, especially in the tourism sector”.