The leadership team of Brussels Airlines, including the airline CEO, CFO and two other top executives, has been dismissed following a board of directors meeting on February 5, 2018. The move is met with strong opposition in Belgium, where it is feared that the dismissal of airline’s top management will be followed by operational changes.

Brussels Airlines announced in a statement on February 5, 2018 that the leadership changes will affect four of the airline’s executives. Chief Executive Officer Bernard Gustin will be replaced by Christina Foerster starting April 1, 2018. Thibault Demoulin is also appointed as new Chief Operating Officer, effective April 1, 2018, while two new members of the Management Board are not yet named as they “will be appointed shortly”.

The news of impending management change broke at the beginning of February 2018. The Belgian airline employees, trade unions and business people reacted by expressing a strong concern about the future of the carrier, as Gustin is known as an advocate for the current "hybrid" form of Brussels Airlines operations, while the airline owner – is not.

The Belgian airline currently has a developed network of cheap flights across European destinations in addition to long-haul flights to Africa, North America and India. However, Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) , which has a 100% stake of Brussels Airlines, is believed to have a plan to fully integrate the European network of Brussels Airlines to its low-cost subsidiary Eurowings.

These concerns are addressed in the Brussels Airlines announcement, where Etienne Davignon, Co-Chairman of the Board of SN Airholding – the holding company of Brussels Airlines – is quoted saying that Brussels Airlines and Eurowings already have common grounds to build a “strong, sustainable and leading” pan-European airline.

“Growing within the Eurowings Group as a Belgian entity will allow us to further build on our specificities, such as our Africa expertise and our distinguished Belgian touch,” says Davignon. “Together with Eurowings, we will further expand our long-haul reach out of Brussels and Dusseldorf, and in particular continue to fulfil our role as Belgium’s home carrier and important economic engine of our country”.

Similarly, Thorsten Dirks, the CEO of Eurowings, also emphasize the importance of Brussels Airlines’ long-haul flights, like those to Africa. “With Brussels Airlines, we can count on a unique know-how of the African market and a long-standing expertise with long-haul operations. Right now our colleagues from Brussels Airlines are leading the process of successfully establishing long-haul operations at Dusseldorf, one of our most important platforms in Germany,” said Dirks.

Prior the announcement, some 100 Belgian business people have written an open letter, urging to sustain operations of Brussels Airlines as they are now, because of their “strategic importance” for Belgium.

“It is crucial that Brussels Airlines, together with its many partners, can further develop the hub in Brussels and the network of flights to Europe and the rest of the world,” Belgian news portal De Standaard quotes the letter. “Belgium and Brussels, the capital of Europe, need this connectivity in order to remain competitive in an increasingly globalized world in which the competition is getting stronger and stronger”.

Trade unions are also worried about possible operational changes, as they could result in massive lay-offs. “We are very worried about the number of jobs that will remain in Brussels after Lufthansa’s (LHAB) (LHA) decision,” Anita Van Hoof from the BBTK union is quoted saying by Reuters on February 5, 2018. “We have not heard about their plans so far which causes a lot of uncertainty”.

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Lufthansa, the largest airline in Germany and in Europe in terms of fleet size and passenger numbers, is allegedly considering to replace top management, including the CEO and CFO, of its wholly owned Brussels Airlines. The rumor, together with surrounding uncertainty on the future business model of the airline, is fueling the already-high tensions within the Belgium flag carrier.