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Behind the scenes: The Network Management

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SWISS is adding no fewer than five attractive new destinations to its European network this summer: Bergen (Norway), Cork (Ireland), Figari (Corsica), Niš (Serbia) and Sylt (Germany).

And whenever there are new points to be added to the route system, it’s the company’s Network Management unit that is crucial to the process. Few people can present all the planning complexities that opening a new air route entails as well as Head of Network Management Martin Apsel-von zur Gathen. It was as a pilot that this 32-year-old originally envisaged his career. But after studying aviation management, he is happy today to help shape the SWISS network instead. “We really are a central hub within our airline,” he says. “What we do in Network Management has a direct impact onevery other part of the company.” But what exactly is it that Network Management does? To begin with, the unit permanently monitors and analyses developments on all SWISS routes andin all SWISS markets, to constantly further enhance the services, schedules and profitability of the SWISS route network. Its specialists also develop ideas for new destinations.

The addition of Cork is a recent example. For the many travellers who were alreadyflying to and from the city via SWISS’s existing Zurich–Dublin service, the new non-stop flights now offer an appealing alternative with a substantially shorter flying time, plus attractive new arrival and departure combinations for anyone planning an Ireland vacation. Opportunities like this can always arise and be exploited at short notice, too. But the planning and preparation involved entail close coordination with various other units that are co-responsible for the operations’ commercial success.

Decisions on new long-haul routes are generally taken about ten to twelve months in advance, while for new short-haul destinations, some six months’ lead time is usually required. SWISS’s Network Management is also actively involved in steering the relevant processes within the Lufthansa Group. “Our goal here is to coordinate these activities as effectively as possible within the group, take swift decisions, learn from each other and support one another, to provide all our customers with the best possible schedules,” Apsel-von zur Gathen explains.

Needless to say, it’s the group members’ long-haul networks that demand the most coordination here. “Our SWISS long-haul planners work in integrated teams with our colleagues from the other Lufthansa Group hubs of Frankfurt, Munich and Vienna,” Apsel-von zur Gathen continues. “When we recently decided to put our new Boeing 777-300ERs onto our Zurich–San Francisco route, we did so within the wider context of the group’s services to California. We adopt a similar approach with our fleet planning, too.”

The intensive and clearly defined planning process generally begins with one key question: How do things look on the capacity front, i.e., which aircraft is available to open additional routes? “The sheer range of areas where decisions need to be made is really exciting,” Apsel-von zur Gathen enthuses. “In the morning we may be discussing our long-term fleet and capacity planning; and in the afternoon we have to work out how to accommodate a short-notice ‘fan flight’ to the Ice Hockey World Championships.”

“A sound knowledge of the market, a good picture of our competitors’ schedules and above all flexibility: These are what it takes to exploit an airline network’s revenue and profit potential to the max,” he concludes. And to show how complex network management can be: Once you’ve completed the evaluation process, you may still not be able to add a new destination to your network, because you can’t get the arrival and departure slots at the times youneed them. Planning is everything!

 

Text: Tamás Kiss / Photos: Claudia Link


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