Crossair puts new face on old values

 - July 14, 2008, 6:49 AM

Crossair, Europe’s largest regional airline, spreads its wings next month when it formally takes over Swissair routes following the national carrier’s bankruptcy last year. The airline, to be known as Swiss, will fly to 123 destinations in 60 countries with a fleet of 128 aircraft. But André Dosé, the airline’s president and CEO, insisted that the regional roots of Crossair would form the foundation of Switzerland’s new national carrier.

“It may have a different wrapping, but Swiss will have the soul and base of Crossair,” said Dosé.

Under current plans, the airline will be the first to introduce the Embraer 170 into service, and the niche markets that made Crossair so well respected will remain a vital part of the network.

Of the 30 Embraer 170s on firm order, the first is scheduled to arrive this year and a further 14 next year. The first of 30 Embraer 190s will be delivered in 2004, marking the beginning of the replacement of the Avro RJ fleet. The airline also expects another seven 50-seat ERJ-145s to be delivered this year, completing its initial order for 25 aircraft. Their delivery will see the withdrawal of the remaining Saab 340s and the beginning of the disposal of the Saab 2000 fleet.

Dosé insisted that the new airline would serve the major intercontinental trunk routes and those it considered niche markets with equal commitment. “London City is a niche market in which we have been successful and I see no reason to discontinue those routes. Similarly, services from Lugano, Bern and Sion will also continue,” he said. “We know there is little prospect of making money from all of those services, but they are important to the passengers. Our commitment to these niche markets is illustrated by our insistence that the new Embraer aircraft must be able to operate into these challenging airports.”

Point-to-Point Focus

Dosé said the airline would place more emphasis on point-to-point traffic rather than transfer traffic, which typically provides poor yields. As a result Zurich, which was Swissair’s main hub, will become the new airline’s intercontinental base, and Crossair’s Euro Airport will remain its regional hub.

The airline expects to carry 9.8 million passengers this year, and despite budgeting for a SFr1.1 billion ($644 million) loss this year, it aims to break even next year.

Joining an airline alliance remains a possibility, but Dosé would give no indication as to the favorite. It appears Swiss will join British Airways, American Airlines and six other airlines in the One World alliance, although neither Skyteam nor Star Alliance has been ruled out.

Swissair, once a proud national symbol, ran out of cash and fell into bankruptcy last October after piling up heavy debt from a failed expansion plan. Crossair, a profitable airline serving only European destinations, said it would consider taking over the Swissair intercontinental routes only if it received financial support from government and industry. Within four months, Dosé said, investors raised SFr2.7 billion ($1.6 billion).

The airline’s primary concern rests with replacing the 13 MD-11s currently in service on intercontinental routes. Dosé said the airline would likely decide between the Boeing 777-200ER and the Airbus A340-300 before the end of the year.

Swiss will be owned by a holding company called Swiss Air Lines– a name that traces its roots to the halcyon days of Swiss aviation between 1935 and 1955.

The airline has begun painting its airplanes in the new color scheme. The first, an Airbus A320, debuted at Basel during the announcement. Plans call for all aircraft to be repainted by the end of the year, with some displaying the bold Swiss painted in one of the country’s four official languages–German, French, Italian and Romansch.