MIAMI – Belgium boutique startup, Air Antwerp, is hoping to fill the gap that VLM Airlines left behind in the wake of its liquidation at its Antwerp International Airport hub last summer with plans of operating three short-haul flights within Europe beginning this fall.

Enlisting the help of VLM’s previous Fokker F50 aircraft, several of its past 85 employees and ex-CEO Johan Maertens – the new carrier is keen to access niche markets such as London City Airport (LCY) with the smaller 50 to 80 seat capacity planes that larger aircraft just can’t get to.

PHOTO: Ad Meskens

“It is not yet clear about precise destinations. We will begin with one Fokker 50, a type of aircraft with 50 seats that were also used by the recently liquidated VLM Airlines in Antwerp,” said an Air Antwerp spokesperson.

Spearheading the move and principal shareholders in the new venture, Dutch airline giant KLM and Irish carrier CityJet raised the initial capital investment of €61,500 taking a 25 and 75% respective stake in the new company with CityJet acquiring over 46,000 shares and KLM close to 15,500.

Details in the agreement, which was finalized last week and unveiled to the public on Monday, include a corporate strategy that fulfills the business needs of KLM and CityJet stakeholders, and Air Antwerp acting as a test driver for potential new routes.

“Those (aircraft) are devices that the two companies do not have. With Air Antwerp, we want to reach niche markets that KLM and CityJet cannot serve themselves,” added the spokesperson.

PHOTO: Ad Meskens

The new regional airline is currently in the process of obtaining their Air Operator Certificate (AOC) from the federal transport authorities and hopes to begin operating by September in order to rebuild some of the 40% market share that was lost by Antwerp Airport after VLM went bankrupt in August of 2018.

“Indeed, there is still some work to be done and possible investments in aircraft other than the Fokker 50,” said Antwerp Airport CEO Marcel Buelens.

“But thanks to Air Antwerp, we are able to access KLM’s leading international brand recognition and flight network – a foothold we were aiming for.”

Founded in 1919 and the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name, KLM is using the startup as a way to connect to passengers in the southern Netherlands where they would not otherwise reach with its larger aircraft.