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Sat 23 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Future focus

Marcel Biederman, vice president of Swiss Air's European and Intercontinental markets, on the company's recent developments and future expansion plans.

Marcel Biederman, vice president of Swiss Air's European and Intercontinental markets, on the company's recent developments and future expansion plans.

Can you provide some background about the company?

Swiss International Airlines was founded in Spring 2002. We have headquarters in Switzerland and we are very strongly focused on European business. Most of our fleet are long-haul aircraft, and last year we had an excellent operational result in the range of about US$550 million.

An airline.com is something we are trying to develop. It's a question of how comfortable people are. On the other hand it is a valuable information source.

Last year we opened Delhi as a new destination and this May we will also be launching Shanghai. We want to grow in the Asian market just like we are growing in Europe.

Swiss just opened three destinations in Europe, one is St Petersburg, one in Florence in Italy and the other is Sofia. At present our most popular destination is New York, we serve the city from Switzerland four times per day.

What is your role at Swiss Air?

I'm in charge of all intercontinental markets which means everything outside of Europe, I also have the regional market for the Middle East and Africa out here in Dubai.

I'm currently visiting because my area manager who has been here the last four years is moving back to Switzerland, he's replaced by someone coming from there.

Do you have any Middle East expansion plans?

We currently offer daily flights to Dubai. We are increasing services to the UAE, and we are also looking into Abu Dhabi. We currently fly to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Riyadh and Jeddah. We also serve Oman by extending the Dubai flight to Muscat.

In the Middle East what we'd like to do is increase the frequencies to Saudi Arabia and then of course the Gulf area. We are constantly looking at how we can serve the area better.

We might be increasing destinations, frequencies and aircraft size in the future but there are no concrete plans at present.

Do you feel your company website has helped achieve success?

We have a modest growth in the airline.com business share in the UAE. We are working on that because it obviously has to be made very attractive not only in terms of price but also in terms of touch and feel.

We are working on that with a local adapted website that then goes to the central booking engine. It is something we have tried to develop all over the world but there are some limitations in certain markets.

It's a question of how comfortable people are using credit card payments; some people still feel uneasy doing this over the internet.

Also, even today, not everyone is that web-savvy and some people struggle more than others adapting to the online market.On the other hand an airline.com is a very valuable source of information.

We've also launched regular newsletters which give product information to our customers and that's something we definitely want to develop and grow.

What are the latest company developments and investments?

We are modestly growing every year, in the range of about 12-14% in terms of ASK, available sea kilometres. And we have managed to sell this growth and this is a pace we'd like to see kept up over the next two to three years. We've also invested in ground product and in-flight.

We've got nine long-haul aircraft on order which will be delivered next spring. We'll have a totally new product for economy, business and first class. We've invested in new lounges, particularly in Switzerland. We would also like to build a lounge facility here in Dubai, though it's obviously a bit restricted due to lack of space.

What are your future expansion plans in terms of aircraft?

We've ordered the Airbus 330-300s which will come next year. This year we'll get three additional 340-300s. In Europe we're also looking at six to seven of the Airbus 320 family. At present we have 79 aircraft in total and we'll be spending around US$1 billion on our expansion.

Our main focus is to upgrade our first and business class as well as new seats and new entertainment screens. We'll also be introducing lie-flat beds in business.

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