February 5, 2018 / 5:46 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 1-Belgian business urges Lufthansa not to merge Brussels Airlines with Eurowings

(Adds management appointments, Eurowings comment)

By Julia Fioretti and Samantha Koester

BRUSSELS, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Nearly 100 Belgian companies called on Monday for Germany’s Lufthansa to keep Brussels Airlines based in Belgium and not to merge it with Eurowings, as the German carrier replaced the Belgian airline’s top management.

Lufthansa, which took control of the Belgian national flag carrier in 2016, on Monday appointed a new chief executive officer and chief operating officer at the airline.

Christina Foerster will take over the helm of Brussels Airlines on April 1, Brussels Airlines said in a statement on its website after a board meeting.

Executives at Belgian firms including Solvay and AB Inbev said in an open letter that the connectivity offered by Brussels Airlines was strategically important for Belgium and its ability to export products and services.

“We are today advocating that Brussels Airlines remains a strong airline, anchored in Brussels, that meets the needs of the various segments in the market,” they wrote in the letter published on the website of communications firm Akkanto.

“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.”

In response to the letter, Lufthansa’s Eurowings said the strengths of both airlines would be combined.

“There is no difference in content between the demands of the Belgian economy and Eurowings’ plans to build a strong, sustainable and leading pan-European airline, together with Brussels Airlines,” a spokesman said, adding Brussels Airlines would retain a base in the Belgian capital.

Lufthansa is using Brussels Airlines to expand long-haul operations for its Eurowings budget brand out of Duesseldorf.

The letter was welcomed by unions representing workers at Brussels Airlines, which employs 3,400 people.

Anita Van Hoof from the BBTK union, said it was “uplifting” to be supported by the Belgian company executives.

“But that is not the main point. We are very worried about the number of jobs that will remain in Brussels after Lufthansa’s decision. We have not heard about their plans so far which causes a lot of uncertainty,” Van Hoof told Reuters.

Union representatives have said they would consider strike action depending on the outcome of Lufthansa’s decision.

“It will not only be the brand that will change, it’s the business model: the employment, the conditions,” Filip Lemberechts, secretary of the CGSLB union, said.

Brussels Airlines emerged out of SN Brussels Airlines which was created in 2002 in the wake of the bankruptcy of Sabena.

This went bust after Swissair, which then owned a 49 percent stake, failed to inject the necessary funds and a Brussels court later held the Swiss airline responsible for its failure.

Swissair later also collapsed and its successor Swiss International Airlines was taken over by Lufthansa. (Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Alexander Smith and Mark Potter)

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