At the end of last week Swiss regional carrier Darwin Airline inaugurated a new daily route between Zurich and Priština, the capital and largest city in Kosovo. It also planned to add a twice weekly link to the city from Geneva from December 21, 2012 as it takes advantage of its commercial partnership with Belle Air Europe to enhance air connectivity, although it is not clear if this service will begin.
The Independent Lugano-based carrier signed a framework agreement for a three-year collaboration with Belle Air Europe and Belle Air in October this year. This partnership aims to construct a network where the companies will be involved together in developing new routes, sharing their respective aircraft fleets and creating cost and revenue synergies.
According to the companies, the agreement can be considered “as a step forward from the traditional regional airline business”. Thanks to the alliance's strategy, each company will be able to “maximise the profit of its own assets and increase its commercial and marketing abilities by strengthening its presence in Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain and South-Eastern Europe, and by increasing its purchasing power,” they say.
This latest network expansion represents the first fruits of this arrangement as Darwin Airline makes use of the larger 144-seat Airbus A319s and 180-seat A320s of Belle Air Europe to be able to offer these routes. Previously, the airline’s plans have been restricted by the capacity and range of its 50-seat Saab 2000 turboprops. This growth will place Darwin Airline in direct competition with Belair Airlines on the Zurich – Priština route and easyJet if it commences the Geneva – Priština route. An estimated 147,000 and 44,000 O&D passengers flew on these routes in 2011, respectively.
“The agreement with Belle Air is moving positively and the synergies we anticipated are now starting to be implemented, enabling both parties to benefit and grow the network, offering our customers more choice with high levels of quality service and reliability. This is a major step forward for Darwin Airline operating larger aircraft as we continue to grow our network,” said Maurizio Merlo, chief executive officer, Darwin Airline.
Under the terms of the alliance a combined fleet of 14 aircraft is now available to the carriers, which will be flown by their original operators under wet- or dry-lease arrangements to ensure efficient and optimal utilisation of aircraft and networks. This fleet comprises six Saab 2000s, two ATR 72-500s, three Airbus A319s and three A320s.
The partnership has already resulted in the creation of an advanced customer relationship management system (CRM) and a joint call centre for the companies. In the future to maximise synergies a new codeshare will be incorporated on strategic routes; cross alliance ticketing services will be adopted in order to foster direct relationships with passengers and cross-marketing operations and a new collaboration with the main legacy carriers will be developed in order to evaluate new potential partnerships, alongside the normal cost benefits.
Switzerland’s Darwin Airline was established in 2003 and launched operations the subsequent year. It currently offers scheduled services in France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland; having boosted its presence following the acquisition of local rival Baboo earlier in the decade. Belle Air Europe was founded in 2009 in Italy and operates services to the Balkans and Southern Europe from many major cities across Europe and providing important connections to Priština and to Skopje in Macedonia.