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Development of the SWISS route network

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Where would you like to go next summer? To the coast of Miami, to the dunes of Dubai or to Singapore for a unique street food experience? Your journey begins with choosing the airline that will fly you to your destination. It is not just the service on board provided by an experienced and courteous cabin crew, or the contemporary inflight entertainment and comfortable seating that matters. Just as important is a comprehensive range of destinations – the route network.

SWISS’s route network includes over 100 destinations in more than 40 countries, served from Zurich and Geneva. The selection of destinations is not only an exciting but also a crucial process. It is the route network, which makes an airline attractive to potential passengers. A major responsibility therefore lies with Network Management, which is in charge of an airline’s route planning.

How are the hubs between A, B, and a potential stopover in C selected? Does a network planner actually travel to a city to see what it has to offer before suggesting it as a new destination? What used to take place in the form of a field study of the local market potential has now been widely operationalised. Before a new destination is added or an existing one removed from the route network, airlines conduct surveys of its biggest markets on a regular basis. Which destinations attract the most passengers departing from Switzerland? Which countries show the highest numbers of travellers to Switzerland? However, the criteria are not based solely on current demand, but must also anticipate and take into account future market potential.

SWISS’s newest long-haul destinations – Osaka and Washington D.C., which SWISS will start serving from March 2020 onwards – are good examples of how the selection process works.

Network Management closely monitors and analyses developments related to all routes and markets served by SWISS. It then decides on a new destination around 10-12 months before the first aircraft are scheduled to take-off. For short-haul destinations, the selection process starts roughly six months in advance. Offering a new long-haul flight is a long-term investment, and its success often depends on good timing. Launching a new destination during popular travel times – think summer – or at the same time as a major local event is therefore ideal. For example, the Olympic Games, which will take place in Japan in summer 2020. This sporting event could have a major impact on the new Zurich-Osaka route in its first year of operation.

As the country’s third-largest city, Osaka complements the existing connection from Zurich to Tokyo in several ways: First, it offers better connections to tourist destinations such as Kōbe, Nara and Kyōto, which are among the most picturesque in Japan. Second, the important economic centre with its commercial port and impressive futuristic buildings appeals not only to students of architecture. Finally, Osaka is home to a thriving culinary scene, which goes a long way in explaining why it has been dubbed the nation’s culinary capital and why people flock there in great numbers for some delicious food.

In addition to customer demand, political requirements must also be taken into account in the final selection. Traffic rights that regulate air traffic between Switzerland and the destination country are governed in the treaties of both countries. As soon as these are in place, the airline must be registered as a company in the destination country. This usually lengthy process is handled by SWISS’s external affairs team. The cargo division (Swiss WorldCargo) is also involved in the selection process, in order to be able to assess the routes from the point of view of the cargo business.

The question of capacity is central to the launch of a new route: how many aircraft are available to serve an additional route? The new destination in Japan allows for the existing service to Tokyo to be replaced by a Boeing 777-300ER. The fleet’s flagship aircraft has 340 seats. An Airbus A340-300 (223 seats), on the other hand, will serve the new destination Osaka. The aircraft change and the higher seating capacity for the flight to and from Tokyo should enable the potential of this existing route to be fully exploited. At the same time, smaller equipment is more suitable for the initial phase of a new route, as the new route needs to be cultivated for the first time and demand generated.

Slot planning is another challenge when launching a new connection, which is coordinated by the scheduling team. It assigns the airlines their flight times and terminal slots. The structural conditions of the Zurich hub dictate the potential time slots. Other restrictions, such as the airport’s landing capacity, influence the potential departure time, which does not always correspond to the airline’s preferred slot.

Moreover, what happens after the implementation of a new destination? New routes are not introduced every year. Portfolio expansions require, among other things, an expansion of the fleet through new acquisitions and the hiring of additional staff. Because at the end of the flight, what counts is not just having arrived – the entire SWISS travel experience must feel right for the passenger. And this step begins with the route network.

As of 1 March 2020, SWISS will fly from Zurich to Osaka five times per week. Washington D.C. will be served daily from Zurich starting 29 March 2020. Apart from that, six new holiday destinations will be served from Geneva between June and October: Antalya, Menorca, Djerba, Dubrovnik, Rhodes as well as Ponta Delgada.

Text: Livia Cadalbert