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Minding the network

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As Senior Manager Schedule Planning, Peter Dellenbach is part of the team that determines which new routes become part of the SWISS network.

Q: Peter, tell us about your job.
Route development involves determining potential new destinations as far in advance as possible and giving them priority. Once a new route has been chosen, then we move on to schedule planning, which involves finding the ideal departure times. In the case of San Francisco, for example, it would make no sense at all to have the flight depart from Zurich at 22:00. It would be empty.
The relationship between Route Management, the commercial side, and Schedule Planning, the operational side, can be described like this: Route Management knows what Schedule Planning thinks is feasible. In turn, Schedule Planning knows what Route Management is looking for in commercial terms and works together with Sales to achieve this. The bigger picture includes handling agents, technical services and flight crews.

Q: What was involved in planning for San Francisco?
Primary consideration is given to destinations that will have strong demand out of Zurich. Local traffic is always the main target. At the moment, San Francisco ranks among the top three destinations that SWISS does not currently serve.
The next aspect is how much connecting traffic can be generated. The necessary data comes from the global airline data base known as MIDT and the Federal Office for Civil Aviation.

Q: Was there anything particular to consider regarding San Francisco?
Every new destination is special and interesting in its own way. Many people are involved; airport personnel, slot coordinators, for example. And top customers also play a role. We have to figure out who would be interested in flying on this route.

Q: How long is the planning phase?
From the list of potential destinations, we can tell about a year in advance which ones are the most suitable. Then we take a closer look at a number of points. Is there an attractive time slot available? How does the destination airport feel about our flight? Would our flight attract passengers? We then obtain figures relevant from the airport in question which helps us to determine what kind of volume we can expect to sell abroad. Is the slot attractive for us and are there good connections that go with it? In the case of San Francisco, we would look at Hawaii, depending on departure times. The flight also needs to take off from Zurich at an attractive time and harmonise with as many connecting fights as possible. For flights to the USA, there are two possibilities: 10:00 and 13:00. For San Francisco, we realised early on that 13:00 was the ideal time slot.

Q: Is it possible that people in Route Development could spend their entire career observing and analysing potential routes without ever having one of their routes taken up?
Frankly, yes, that’s possible. Some projects are calculated through without being implemented. For example, we might receive a query from management about why we don’t fly to a certain destination despite an expression of interest from certain customer companies. Even routes that do become operational remain under observation. For example, service to Lyon was once withdrawn and then resumed in 2009. Our people don’t just look at potential routes. They also monitor existing ones to see if the flight times are ideal and that the right equipment is used.
Our unit consists of five employees. Projects are distributed fairly so that at some point everyone gets to see one of their routes become operational.

Q: What was your personal highlight?
Nailing down the slot after six months of negotiations. In general, I am always pleased to announce a new destination. The special livery we have for the aircraft fuselage is another highlight. This is something else we had to coordinate. And if I go to San Francisco next year on holiday, that will be a highlight too.

Q: Any final thoughts on this new destination?
I am convinced that this route will be a success. We have calculated long and hard to make sure that’s the case. As the flight is scheduled now, it has every chance of success. It enhances our route network.