Switzerland better prepared for latest industry downturn; Swiss continues to prosper while still adding capacity

Image: United Airlines at Geneva
United Airlines inaugurated Geneva-Washington services on 20 April. The daily service is operated using a 767-300. Francois Longchamp, State Councillor of the Canton of Geneva and Chairman of the GVA Board, said: “The United Nations, specialized agencies and NGOs based in Geneva will be better connected from now on to the capital of the United States, and to Washington-based financial institutions and other organizations.”

Back in 2001 when air travel demand received its last major shock, it resulted in the demise of Switzerland’s flag carrier Swissair, much to the embarrassment and shame of most of the Swiss population. This time around, however, its successor Swiss Air Lines is safely under the protective umbrella of Lufthansa. It has taken eight years for traffic at Swiss’ base at Zurich to almost return to the levels of 2000. However, early indications for 2009 suggest it may be a while longer before the peak of 22.7 million passengers at Zurich (set in 2000) is finally beaten.

Chart: Swiss airport traffic 1990-2008
Source: Unique

During the same period (2000-2008) traffic at Geneva airport has increased by 50% as easyJet has continued to expand its presence at the airport. This summer it will be flying to some 35 destinations, three more than last summer. Basel has also recovered from the loss of Swissair’s regional partner Crossair, primarily thanks to easyJet and other LCCs. As a result traffic at Switzerland’s three main airports reached a record 37.8 million in 2008.

Chart: Swiss airport seasonality
Source: Euroairport, Geneva, Unique

The three main airports in Switzerland have, unusually, quite different seasonality profiles. Geneva benefits from its proximity to a number of ski resorts and so performs well in winter. Traffic in the first quarter of 2009 is down 6.4% at Zurich, 8.9% in Geneva and 13.8% in Basel.

Swiss increases capacity as others pull back

A comparison of scheduled seat capacity at the beginning of this summer compared with last summer reveals that Swiss has increased its capacity from Swiss airports by 4.3%. All other leading carriers have reduced capacity but overall capacity is up marginally by 0.3% thanks to the major role that Swiss plays.

Airline Seats Summer 2008 Seats Summer 2009 Change
Swiss 195,791 204,166 +4.3%
easyJet 77,719 77,030 -0.9%
Air France 34,327 33,515 -2.4%
Lufthansa 33,146 29,934 -9.7%
Airberlin 20,059 18,973 -5.4%
British Airways 22,772 18,957 -16.8%
Total all carriers 526,569 528,270 +0.3%
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 31 March 2008 and w/c 30 March 2009

According to AEA data Swiss grew its scheduled passenger numbers by 10.1% last year (to 13.32 million) while maintaining a load factor of just over 80% as capacity (ASKs) grew by 12%. Although Swiss has a 60% share of seat capacity at Zurich the airport is served by a further 56 airlines. After Swiss, airberlin and Lufthansa are the next busiest carriers. According to the airport LCCs had a 10% share of traffic in 2008, but this is primarily due to the inclusion of airberlin in this category which anna.aero would take issue with. Among proper LCCs Aer Lingus serves Dublin and more recently London Gatwick, easyJet also serves London Gatwick as well as London Luton, and Germanwings serves Cologne/Bonn.

While Zurich may have few LCCs it does have several long-haul carriers including five US carriers (American, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways), Air Canada, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways.

Last year transfer passengers made up 35% of the airport’s total traffic and in the first quarter of 2009 this segment has fallen by just 0.6% while O&D traffic has fallen by 9.5%. German routes generated almost 18% of all passengers last year followed by the UK (8.7%), Spain (7.5%), Italy (4.7%) and France (4.6%). New services started at the airport since the beginning of 2008 include Faro, Florence, Las Palmas, London Gatwick (Aer Lingus and easyJet), Lyon, Seychelles (Air Seychelles), Shanghai, Sofia, St Petersburg, Valencia and Yerevan (Armavia). All of these were started by Swiss unless otherwise indicated.

easyJet #1 in Geneva

Image: easyJet at Geneva
With around one-third of all seat capacity and over 30 destinations, easyJet is the biggest airline at Geneva.

easyJet remains the biggest airline at Geneva with around one-third of all seat capacity and connecting to over 30 destinations. Between the beginning of 2008 and this summer easyJet has added routes to Ajaccio, Asturias (Oviedo), Bastia, Dubrovnik, Manchester, Nantes, Naples, Split and Stockholm. However, other routes such as Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris Orly have seen capacity reductions.
Swiss has around 14% of capacity and serves 15 destinations though well over half of its flights at the airport are to just two destinations, London City and Zurich. Relative newcomer Baboo (formerly known as Flybaboo) currently serves 12 destinations with its mix of Embraer E-jets and Q400s. In all, some 50 airlines operate scheduled services this summer.

Several Basel routes have intense competition

Basel’s first quarter traffic was down almost 14%. easyJet will still serve 19 destinations this summer, just one less than last summer as it has replaced Liverpool, London Luton and London Stansted services with new routes to Bordeaux (starting in June) and London Gatwick. However, capacity is down around 15% as frequencies have been reduced on a number of routes.

Swiss serves 10 destinations including competing head-to-head with easyJet on routes to Amsterdam and Barcelona. The Amsterdam route is now even more competition since Air France began double daily services at the end of March. Another highly competitive route this summer will be Palma de Mallorca which is served by airberlin, easyJet and TUIfly.com.

Even Ryanair has had a presence at the airport since October 2007. Since then it has started seven routes (an eighth to Cagliari begins this week), but some routes are only seasonal while Girona and Valencia appear to have been dropped with Dublin following later in the summer. During this summer it will compete head-to-head with easyJet on routes to Alicante and Cagliari.


  1. I guess with Switzerland’s amazing nature people will always travel there. But I would be afraid that the Swiss prices are a bit too high for the average traveler these days. It will be interesting to see what the statistics look like a year from now..

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