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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.

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  1. You said that a 22.00 departure to the US would be empty… ok, that might be a bit late for the west coast, but I would love to have more evening flights, where you arrive also in the evening in the US and then can go to bed and sleep. always sooo tough to stay awake…

  2. @Martin Gfeller: There are two reasons why some planes stay on the ground for a while. It’s because of the night ban in Zurich, so the plane could not land if he is not on time. And it’s also because it is important that passengers have connections to European destinations.
    In case of reschedules, we have 2 planes on the ground which are scheduled for planned maintenance and there are 2 more planes on the ground for unplanned maintenance and technical irregularities. That’s why we can guarantee the operation.
    @Waudiz: There is no example of a considered route which has not been taken up because these routes will although stay in our focus and it is possible to launch it in future. Routes like Singapore, Santiago de Chile, Riyadh and Jeddah has been given up in the past. Because we needed the planes for new routes which have more passengers.
    @Johan: 34A are A340 with the new Business Class. Within the next 12 months every A340 should be refurbished.

    Best regards,
    Christian & Peter

  3. @RW
    Thanx :)!

  4. Will try to answer your questions on Monday.

  5. @Johann:
    34A: There are actually two planes which always fly the same routes. For example the A340-300 with the immatriculation HB-JMJ (San Francisco special livery). Day 1 it goes to SFO, Day 2 to Boston then again to SFO,… alternating with a secon A343 of Swiss. Because SWISS would offer its special livery plane to SFO as often as possible and it is always flying to America. Normally as I said to SFO & BOS + once a week to New York. The other planes get different routings.

  6. Thrilling insights you give in your first blogarticle. Thanx! I always thought the widebodys only fly one route and versa – always. Now I know a bit more about efficency. It would be interesting to see the same schedule for short haul planes, i. e. A320s. Must be even more complicated …

  7. The planning looks great.
    However when can a customer of Swiss buy online a multi point ticket, as is the case with other airlines?
    When can an online booking be made for a child less than two years old without an adult on the same booking?
    When can a multicity ticket be organized through the staralliance website including Swiss with pricing in CHF?
    When will Swiss have a decent lounge in GRU?
    When will Swiss consider that a late night departure will affect at the destination many customers facing few Swiss staff. It may be better for more customers to depart on time, than to loose connections for many because of one or several few transit passengers. In Zurich there is staff available to address a multitude of issues?
    Why is the connection ZRH-BK-SIN-BKK-ZRH not available online for a booking with an intermediate stop at BKK. The same applies to similar routes
    Why is ZRH-GRU-ASU-GRU-ZRH as a ticket available (not online) but not ZRH-GRU-ASU-AGT-GRU-ZRH when the flight from ASU to GRU makes a scheduled stop in AGT?
    Just a few questions from a frequent trtaveller.
    Hans Niederer

  8. probably the ones with the new CCL ??

  9. Wow, that’s an impressive pic! Can you tell me the difference between 34A an 343 on the left side of the screen?

  10. Can you give an example of a route which was considered to be taken up but finally didn’t get implemented? Why? And why do some routes get cancelled?

  11. @Martin Gfeller:
    and in addition to this you are absolutely right that there are flight restrictions in Zurich. So there won’t be a landing before 6.02am in a normal situation.
    As you see there are legal & marketing reasons…

  12. @Martin Gfelller:
    The routings on LX288 Johannesburg/ LX092 Sao P. / LX180 Bangkok / ~ LX138 Hong Kong stay at their destinations so long because it wouldn’t make any sense to let them back earlier. They all would arrive in Zurich maybe between 12am – 2am. You wouldn’t have any connections by train & if you had business to do, you don’t need to be in Zurich in the middle of the nigt. So there wouldn’t be anyone on these fligths.

  13. Hey, cool! There is actually a flight on this screenshot which I will take. 😉

  14. One question about the schedule screenshot: Some planes stay for quite a while on ground (in Sao Paulo, Johannesburg). Is this mainly because of the Zurich night flight restrictions, or because of connections?

  15. Thanks, this is fascinating, especially for an IT person like myelf. Looking forward to more articles. For example, how do you reschedule when an aircraft becomes unavailable (scheduled maintenance or tech problem)?

  16. I like the advertising claim on a building near Zurich train station – “If you are going to San Francisco, fly SWISS”

    🙂 Good job!

  17. It’s great but it’s very complicated