Swiss on the Verge of Becoming a Smaller Airline

by Giacomo Amati
SWISS A321 taking off at Zurich. Photo by Erdem Bileg

Swiss International Airlines, part of the Lufthansa Group, is now planning to downsize both its fleet and workforce. Indeed, the airline expects to serve a smaller market compared to the pre-COVID one. Let’s see what changes are about to affect the Swiss national airline.

What is going to change at SWISS?

In the medium-term future, the airline expects a fall in demand of approximately 20%. As a consequence, SWISS fleet will be downsized by 15% compared to 2019. As far as the workforce is concerned, about 1,700 full-time positions will be eliminated, an equivalent of 20% of the pre-COVID total headcount.

As the pandemic broke out, SWISS immediately turned to cost-savings measures. Unfortunately, these were not enough to fight back the disruptive effects of the pandemic. In the words of SWISS CEO, Dieter Vranck:

It has grown increasingly clear that our market is undergoing structural change, and that despite the actions which we were swift to take in response, a restructuring of our company now sadly seems unavoidable.

SWISS’ strategic plan is called “reaCH”, and it aims to save CHF 500,000, approximately € 456,111 through a programme of resizing and transformation of the airline. The plan aims at enabling the airline to pay back its bank loans as soon as possible.

SWISS A220 at Düsseldorf. Photo by Tommy Krombacher

A focus on the fleet and personnel

If we look at the short-medium haul, SWISS’ fleet will be reduced from 69 to 59 aircraft. This move will affect A320-family planes, owned by SWISS, and lessen the wet-lease operations, which Helvetic Airways operates. As far as the long-haul is concerned, SWISS will scrap five long-haul aircraft, going from 31 to 26 planes. All five planes are going to be Airbus aircraft. As a result of the pandemic, frequencies have been reduced, with some direct intercontinental connections never coming back.

By the end of 2021, SWISS expects its workforce to have undergone a reduction of approximately 1,000 full-time equivalents (FTEs) through a combination of voluntary personnel measures and natural staff turnover. However, at this point, a further reduction of personnel is unavoidable. Therefore, an additional 780 employees, equivalent to 650 FTEs, could be fired. Of these, 200 would be ground personnel, 60 SWISS technicians, 400 cabin personnel and 120 cockpit personnel. The total reduction of 1,700 FTEs would equal a reduction of more than 20% compared to 2019’s workforce levels.

SWISS tails at Zurich Airport. Photo by Jett Pongsakon

Premium positioning not to be affected

Notwithstanding the complex restructuring the airline is undergoing, SWISS will remain Switzerland’s national airline. Therefore, SWISS plans to restructure itself according to the new demand from the economic sector, Swiss nationals and tourism. SWISS will hold its two hubs in Zurich and Geneva, and it will not drop direct intercontinental flights that keep Switzerland connected to the entire world. Moreover, Swiss national airline will retain its premium positioning, offering its customers high-standard customer service, including business and first-class tickets on intercontinental flights.

In addition, the “reaCH” programme also sets an eye on sustainability. Indeed, the airline plans to continue its fleet modernisation process, welcoming newer and eco-friendly aircraft in its family. Moreover, SWISS is dedicated to turning to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), contributing to reducing CO2 emissions from international air travel.

Finally, SWISS is dedicated to intensifying collaborations with the Lufthansa Group. The airline aims at strengthening its positions within the group, developing its centres of competence, including the commercial one.

What do you think about the “reaCH” programme by SWISS? Let us know in the comment below! 

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