Independent Swiss regional carrier Darwin Airline has ended speculation over its rumoured growth into the UK market by announcing the opening of a new single aircraft base and the launch of four new international scheduled air services from Cambridge Airport. The carrier will base a single Saab 2000 at the small airport, close to London Stansted, from September 2013 and introduce new connections to Amsterdam, Paris, Milan and Geneva as it further strengthens its feeder services for the SkyTeam alliance.
The new routes, which will be operated under a codeshare with Italian flag carrier Alitalia mark the Lugano-based airline's scheduled debut in the UK market and will support its commitment to provide weekend charter capacity for tour operator Inghams from the airport. From September 2, 2013, the carrier will offer two flights every weekday to Amsterdam Schiphol and one rotation every weekday to Paris, with a single rotation to each destination at weekends. It will also offer four return flights each week to Milan Malpensa and three to Darwin’s main operational hub in Geneva.
Cambridge is one of the UK’s fastest growing economic cities but its close vicinity to Stansted Airport means it has previously found it difficult to secure and sustain regular air services. Cambridge Airport officials say the airport has several geographical advantages in being 1.5 miles from the centre of a major university city, near to world-leading medical, scientific and technology R&D clusters surrounding the city, connected to the M11 and just one hour by rail from central London (comparable with many ‘London’ airports) and with a large four million catchment in the Eastern England region.
“As we expand within Europe, the UK is a key market for us to further establish and we are delighted to open our new base in the heart of East England. Cambridge is at the forefront of several business sectors and spearheading the UK’s economic growth – it is thriving and vibrant, one of the UK’s most valuable and affluent markets.”Maurizio Merlo
Chief Executive Officer, Darwin Airline
“The opening of this new and exciting base by Darwin Airline is a strategic step in our development of Cambridge as a regional international airport. This puts our city firmly on the international transport map, making it easier for people from around the world to get here,” said Steve Jones, managing director of Aviation Services for airport owners Marshall.
The routes from Cambridge will begin on the same day as Darwin Airline launches services to the two SkyTeam hubs from Leipzig/Halle and from Ancona Falconara to Rome Fiumcino, which were announced earlier in May 2013. They are part of Darwin's strategy of providing point-to-point services to major hubs for both business and leisure travellers from regional airports. With many European network carriers withdrawing from thinner routes as they rationalise their regional feeder schedules to cut costs, independents like Darwin are finding new opportunities connecting smaller regional airports and hubs.
“As we expand within Europe, the UK is a key market for us to further establish and we are delighted to open our new base in the heart of East England. Cambridge is at the forefront of several business sectors and spearheading the UK’s economic growth – it is thriving and vibrant, one of the UK’s most valuable and affluent markets,” said Maurizio Merlo, chief executive officer, Darwin Airline. “The team here at Cambridge Airport and many of the city’s stakeholders have inspired us to invest and connect the region to Europe and beyond.”
The new flights will not only support O&D demand between Cambridge and the European cities but will also open up new connection opportunities from Cambridge and the East England region to hundreds of destinations worldwide with connections to the global networks of SkyTeam partners Alitalia and Air France-KLM.
The Paris Charles de Gaulle service will be the only scheduled link to France’s largest airport from East Anglia, while the route to Amsterdam Schiphol restores a long-defunct link between Cambridge and the Dutch capital. Cambridge-based independent Suckling Airways, which from 1999 to 2011 operated as Scot Airways, flew the route before the airline pulled its services from Cambridge as part of restructuring in the post-911 downturn.
According to UK Civil Aviation Authority data 16,395 passengers flew on the route in its last year of operation, accounting for most of the 18,245 passengers who travelled through Cambridge that year. After Scot Airways pulled out, passenger traffic at Cambridge fell sharply to just 1,277 in 2002. Numbers recovered to 2,000-3,000 passengers per year in the mid-2000s but after a record low of 597 in 2011 the airport's new owners have sought to attract new scheduled and charter services.
Last year Slovakian carrier Danube Wings operated a scheduled service to Dole-Jura Airport in the Franche-Comté region near Burgundy between June and September, while a regular summer link to Jersey has been offered through specialist tour operator CI Travel for the past two years. This is flown using a Blue Islands ATR 42-500 on a weekly basis. This year’s programme launched on May 11, 2013 and the Channel Islands travel specialist has confirmed forward-bookings are up 75 per cent year-on-year.
Supporting Darwin Airline’s scheduled activities the carrier will also be flying for leading UK tour operator, Inghams, which has confirmed the launch of its first ever winter ski and summer programme from Cambridge Airport. The company, a leading name in winter ski holidays from the UK, is offering weekly holiday packages to Geneva commencing from December 2013, while weekly offerings to Milan and Geneva will appear in Inghams’ Lakes & Mountains programme for summer 2014, all flown on Darwin’s new scheduled routes.
"The French and Swiss Alps are among our most popular destinations. Inghams has recognised that our customers prefer the convenience of flying from their nearest airport and we have identified demand from the region and are excited to offer new routes from Cambridge,” said Peter Moor, Head of Scheduled Aviation, Inghams.
Additionally, Cambridge Airport officials confirmed to The HUB during the recent Routes Europe forum in Budapest, Hungary that Inghams could add a third destination to its portfolio from Cambridge in Summer 2014, when a number of other new markets could be served directly from the airport under charter programmes. These are set to include Bourgas on the Bulgarian Clack Sea coast and even more further afield destinations such as Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt and Funchal in Madeira. Ahead of then the airport will see the resumption of a winter flight to Naples for Newmarket Holidays, flown by Small Planet Airlines.
(Additional reporting by Mark Broadbent)