We recently interviewed Bernard Gustin, who gave us his views on the challenges facing Brussels Airlines and the aviation sector in the years to come.
Interview with Brussels Airlines' CEO
Since June 1, 2012, Bernard Gustin has been the Chief Executive Officer of Brussels Airlines. He had already been made co-CEO (along with Michel Meyfroidt) two years earlier.
This makes Gustin the perfect man to talk to about the challenges facing the airline and the sector in the years to come.
How do you see Brussels Airlines and the strategy it should adopt over the coming years?
Bernard Gustin: When you look at the present-day reality of Brussels Airlines, and compare it with what it was three years ago, you can see that we have become not just more dynamic, but also more competitive. We have substantially reduced our costs, increased productivity and modified our procedures so that we can adapt more readily to changes in this very competitive and constantly changing market. We are putting the accent more than ever on our customers. We now see travellers as guests on board our aircraft, and it is to best meet their needs that we are continually making investments in our products and services. Our mission is "to be the most personal airline, bringing people together and making travel a pleasure." Adopting the position of "the no-compromise airline", we cannot simply accept a trade-off between attractive prices and service. In Brussels Airlines, the two are inseparable.
Up to now, the markets have responded positively to our adoption of this position. The new features include our 69-euro fares, the 22 new destinations introduced over less than a year, 'The Loft' – our new business lounge at Brussels Airport – and new aspects to be seen on our website, at the airport and on board. Our guests should feel at home. We carried 6.7 million passengers in 2014: a 13% increase.
Despite the initial successes, however, we are not yet where we feel we need to be. Although our financial results improved substantially from 2012 to 2014, we are not yet profitable. This year, 2015, we are again putting efforts into improving the profitability of our business, and this has to be a lasting effect, so that we reach a profit of 50 million euros in 2018, carrying 8 million passengers. With regard to our route network, we are hoping in the coming years to extend our activities in Africa and enhance the services we offer in Europe, while keeping close control of our costs, which need to be driven down still further so that we can remain competitive. Also, looking at our fleet of aircraft, we are aiming at uniformity (with Airbus-type aeroplanes) in 2017, so as to reduce the complexity of the maintenance operations and those of a more general nature.
What are the main challenges facing Brussels Airlines in particular, and the sector as a whole?
Bernard Gustin: There are several but, restricting myself to just three, they would be overcapacity in Europe, resulting from insufficient consolidation in the sector; the absence of a level playing field vis-à-vis certain low-cost operators, and indeed some of the Middle-Eastern Gulf airlines; and lastly the frequent dependence of airlines on players in a monopoly position, such as air-traffic control, and indeed the airports, resulting in very high costs and charges. The key to solving this problem would be strict European regulation that took account of the interests of all parties. But I'd like to repeat that those are certainly not the only challenges. In the environmental field, for example, there is the Single European Sky plan, which has been discussed for many years but still not arrived at anything definite. This is, however, the EU's most important ecological initiative, with the potential to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 10%.
What are your thoughts about the importance of safety and the role of safety management?
Bernard Gustin: The safety of our passengers and of the flight crews is our absolute daily priority. Safety management is a concern not just for the operating departments but also for the CEO. I am directly involved as the person accountable, and we must not forget that there is no other mode of transport as regulated and as scrutinised as the airlines. The 3,500 Brussels Airlines workers thus make it their everyday duty to ensure that air travel remains the safest mode of transport, and that this is the case 24/7 and 365 days a year.
On 1 July, the sales activities of Brussels Airlines will be combined with those of the other airlines in the Lufthansa Group. Why are these activities being combined in Belgium, and what effect do you expect there to be?
Bernard Gustin: This is a logical step in the close co-operation between the Lufthansa Group partners. The potential for synergy between the various companies in the group is constantly growing and, just as in other countries, we wish to combine our strengths and areas of expertise here in Belgium so as to provide a better service to our customers. The change will make it easier for the four companies in the group to work together. Showing the customers just "one face" is, in this respect, fundamental. It will make us more effective and improve the quality of everyone's experience.