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Louis “outraged” by flights between… Liège and Brussels: why do some planes still make “chip jumps”?

  • Post category:Economy News
  • Reading time:10 mins read

Louis became indignant around mid-September, noting that a plane had linked the airports of Liège and Zaventem. The 50-year-old lives “on the access corridor” from Liège airport, he explained to us after contacting the editorial staff of RTL info via the orange Alert us button. He therefore sees a large number of planes passing over his home and likes to follow them on the flightradar24 application.

For the Brussels-Liège flight, “it was my daughter who pointed it out to me”, says Louis. “I have already noticed that FedEx made trips Cologne-Liège”he adds.

These flights at (very) short distance question the postman. “I heard that the Walloon government does not accept short distance flights.”

What is it really ?

Between September 12 and 14, two flights of the company ASL Airlines Belgium (transport of goods and passengers) successfully connected the airports of Liège and Zaventem.

For Louis, seeing that these thefts take place, “cis aberrant especially in the current context”. “It’s not 50 liters that planes consume, that’s what revolts me”.

In the two cases cited by our witness, the distances between the airports are as follows: Liège-Brussels 90km, Liège-Cologne 130km. Flights that can be described as ‘leapfrogging’:

We contacted FedEx, the American freight transport giant. “FedEx does not operate permanent domestic flights between Brussels and Liège airports or between Liège and Cologne.“, the company tells us. However, “it is sometimes necessary to reposition an aircraft to another location to maintain fleet capabilities“, adds FedEx.

For its part, ASL Airlines Belgium gives us the following explanation: “This is a maintenance flight. We don’t have the capacity to do it here in Liège so the plane goes to Brussels for an overhaul. It was not a commercial flight. We do not operate short distance flights, it is not interesting neither economically nor ecologically and neither for us nor for the customer.

A leap of flea, what is it?

The ‘chip hop’ award is usually given to flights of less than 500km. These can be commercial flights, carrying passengers and/or cargo (goods) from one point to another, but also other flights “for convenience”explains former pilot Pierre de Broqueville.

There is the principle ofpositioning flights”. “It’s when a plane is at point A and we need it at point B. For example, a TUI plane from Malaga lands in Zaventem to drop off its passengers and then we need him to Charleroi for another flight to Rome”, analyzes the old driver. In the – purely theoretical – example of our expert, the aircraft would thus perform a ‘leapfrog’ flight between Zaventem and Charleroi between two ‘normal’, longer routes.

This principle is especially applicable for passenger flights, but cargo flights are not left out. Cargo planes can also do ‘chip jumps’. The most popular example dates back to 2019 when a Qatar Airways flight between Liège and Maastricht was widely singled out.

“If the customer requires that part of his goods be deposited in Liège and the other in Maastricht, the carrier must honor the agreement”

At the time, the operator had justified this 38 km flight by a clause in the contract which linked it with a Dutch customer for whom it was performing these flights. This is precisely one of the points put forward by Pierre de Broqueville to explain these ultra-short flights. “It also depends on the contract between the client and the charterer. If the first requires that part of its goods be deposited in Liège and the other in Maastricht, the second must honor the agreement that has been made. We could do the transport by truck, but the customer may not want his goods to be carried around. It is also faster to unload half (for example) of the goods in Liège and the other half in Maastricht than to empty everything in Liège and then take the time to load trucks, that they go into traffic jams, etc..”

Regarding this practice, ASL Airlines Belgium tells us that it is really not very common and that, concerning them, they do not carry out this type of flight.

Empty flights between myths and reality

During the years 2020 and 2021, world aviation experienced an unprecedented drop in activity linked to the Covid19 crisis. Almost all of the European planes found themselves grounded and the resumption of activity was done very gradually.

During this period, companies had to deal with regulations that did not take into account the current situation.

Planes have been forced to fly, sometimes empty, in order to “keep their slot”, as we say in the jargon. You should know that everything is measured in an airport, especially the take-off and landing times. Each company has its slots, more or less advantageous, and to keep them, it must use them. A plane must therefore take off or land at the scheduled times, otherwise the time slot can go to a competitor. It is the principle of “use it or lose it”in French understand “use it or lose it”.

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This grotesque situation only lasted for a while, “the European Commission has suspended this rule and introduced a slot exemption during the health crisis making ghost flights unnecessary”informs the carrier TUI.

Apart from this ‘covid’ parenthesis, Pierre de Broqueville ensures that planes never fly empty. “Often, the holds of passenger planes are not only filled with their luggage, but a good part of the hold is used to transport goods”. A practice strongly used in particular by the company AirBelgium.

It happens that flights are sometimes less full, or even almost empty, but then the return flight can compensate for an unprofitable outward journey both financially and in terms of the carbon footprint. The retired pilot shares a memory on this subject. “I was an airline pilot and on Christmas Eve, I had to fly Brussels-ShasOh Paulo. The plane only had 30 passengers and I asked if it was really worth keeping it. I was told yes because on return it will be filled. Indeed, when leaving São Paulo to return to Brussels, we no longer knew how to put one more person on the plane.”

And today ?

Sometimes airlines need to ‘chip jump’ their planes, but they prefer to avoid it. To give an example, the company TUI explains that it uses the technique of “triangular” flights. If a plane located in Charleroi has to go to Brussels, it will serve a destination abroad and will land in Zaventem on its return. “This way we avoid an unnecessary short flight to Belgium”says the company.

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The company nevertheless admits that “hasIn order for aircraft maintenance to be carried out, it may happen that aircraft parked at regional airports are transported to the maintenance hangar located in Zaventem. This is only the case for major interventions, because TUI fly also has maintenance infrastructures at regional airports”. A situation that remains very specific.

What the law says ?

Since 2006 and the “Jet4You affair”, Wallonia has prohibited ‘leapfrogging’ flights between its various airports. At the time, the company Jet4You wanted to board passengers to Morocco by first passing through a Charleroi-Liège flight. Wallonia opposed it and André Antoine, then Minister in charge of Walloon Airports, banned “chip jumps” of less than 100 km.

But this law is valid “only” for commercial flights (passengers and freight). Positioning flights, which we discussed earlier in this article, are not affected.

And in terms of air pollution?

In Europe, in 2019, air transport accounted for almost 3.8% of greenhouse gas emissions. If only intra-European flights are taken into account, the percentage drops to 0.4%. These figures are for the Europe of 27, without Great Britain.

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It is common knowledge that the shorter the journey, the less ecologically attractive it is to fly. It is for this reason that chip jumps are so criticized.

Take-off and landing are the parts of the flight that consume the most energy and therefore pollute the most. In this sense, the longer the flight, the better its carbon profitability.

Our French colleagues from the newspaper Le Monde detail the differences in emissions between the different means of transport for a Paris-Marseille journey. A single person in a car will release 150 kg of CO2 during their journey. With a full plane, the carbon footprint per person rises to 77.5 kg of CO2.

Advantage to the plane in this case, but the car footprint can be reduced quickly depending on the number of people in it. With four passengers in the car, their footprint per person is only 37.4 kg. And conversely, if the plane is only half full, the passenger’s carbon footprint doubles and reaches 155 kg.

On this same route (Paris-Marseille), a full TGV emits only 0.9 kg of CO2 per passenger and 1.8 kg if it is only half full. In short, very far from the standards of the car and the plane. A small nuance must nevertheless be made: the trains run on electricity, but the latter is sometimes produced by fossil fuels (such as coal) which pollute enormously during production.

For example, in Germany, coal remains the main source of energy (31.5%) ahead of wind power (30.1%) in the first quarter of 2022. In Belgium, it is gas that provides 25% of our electricity.

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Latest controversy

On Wednesday, October 5, our colleagues from the Future are throwing a new stone in the pond with a shocking title “The return of chip jumps”. We learn that a new airline is going to set up at Charleroi airport. Volotea will offer “from the beginning of winter low-cost flights to the French city of Lyon.

Over this kind of distance, the plane emits 50 times more CO2 than the train”specify our colleagues from the local press.

Knowing that trains already connect Brussels to Lyon in less than 4 hours (3h30 for the fastest) and for less than 100 euros, the rail alternative seems to be sufficient in itself.

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