Interview: SWISS head of network management

Newly appointed Benedikt Escher says SWISS will reconsider its mix of destinations and frequencies as it notes strength of VFR and leisure.

Benedikt Escher took the role of head of network management in 2021 succeeding Michael Trestl. Escher was previously head of scheduling and slot management at the carrier, and prior to that spent five years in charge of network planning and development at Edelweiss Air.

How is the COVID crisis reshaping SWISS’ network targets?

We intend to relaunch our network as soon as possible and to the largest extent possible. In doing so, we’re focusing on reliability towards our customers by publishing a realistic schedule in order to keep cancellations and schedule changes to a minimum.

Together with the other Lufthansa Group airlines and hubs, we’re rebuilding a broad joint network in order to offer as many options as possible once the demand returns.

While our current focus is mainly on flying cash-positive, we need to pivot to earning positive contribution margins in order to be able to pay back the credits as fast as possible during the course of the year.

Are you planning to rebuild the existing network or pivot to new opportunities?

We will certainly reconsider the mix of destinations and frequencies. A clear tendency towards visiting friends and relatives as well as leisure destinations is visible for the near future, as these passenger segments are expected to recover first while corporate traffic will lag behind.

Together with our sister carrier Edelweiss, we’re going to add a few new destinations out of Zurich and Geneva accordingly for this summer.

In the long run, we want to rebuild most of our previous network, but this will take time. Furthermore, it’s not guaranteed that each and every destination will be resumed in the future.

Are you getting enough support from your airport partners?

Yes, to a varying extent. We’re all in this together.

Which markets do you expect to recover first?

Domestic P2P traffic is marginal for us due to the small size of the country, however we’re connecting Geneva and Lugano to our Zurich hub with feeder flights (Geneva) and our intermodal offering with the Swiss Railways (Geneva and Lugano, with more options planned for the future).

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European traffic is expected to come back faster than long-haul traffic which is going to depend more on regional restrictions. We are committed to our Zurich hub and our Geneva base.

What do you think will be the main factor in demand returning?

Passengers need planning security. To this end, clear rules and regulations regarding vaccination, testing and quarantine requirements are needed. 

Of course the vaccinations as such are a key driver for recovery as they will determine the further pace of the pandemic. And regarding testing it’s key to have quicker and cheaper options available soon. 

In the current situation, having your entire family tested before a vacation would be a major cost factor, and for ad-hoc travelers, waiting several hours or days for the result can make business trips unviable.

Photo credits: SWISS