Swiss Air returns to Changi after four years

It wants slice of region's travel boom; more flights, competitive fares ahead

After a four-year hiatus, the Swiss Cross is back at Changi Airport.

The arrival on Monday of Swiss International Air Lines Flight LX178 from Zurich marked the end of Singapore Airlines' monopoly on the route, and more competitive fares for travellers.

It is good news for the 4,000-strong Swiss community in Singapore - the largest in an Asian city - said Mr Thomas Kupfer, Swiss Ambassador to Singapore.

He said: "Apart from an increase in seat capacity, Swiss' new service will also provide passengers with more options when travelling between Switzerland and Singapore."

Swiss Air operates a daily service, like SIA.

SIA spokesman Nicholas Ionides said the carrier will compete by offering "the highest-quality products and services across an extensive network".

As for fares, they are a function of market demand and supply, he said.

Before Swiss left Singapore in April 2009, the airline was operating a Zurich-Bangkok-Singapore service six times a week.

Now it is offering a daily, direct flight and an aircraft fitted with the latest onboard products such as flat beds in business class, said the airline's chief executive officer, Mr Harry Hohmeister.

He told The Straits Times: "Our new service is intended to satisfy the substantial demand between Switzerland and Singapore. The market is big enough for two players.

"We are very confident about the success of the new direct flight."

Singapore is Swiss's eighth Asian destination and leaves the company well placed to benefit from the region's travel boom, said Mr Hohmeister.

"The real rise of this dynamic region has only taken off and it has not yet reached its real flying altitude" he said.

For Changi, efforts to convince Swiss to return started the day it left, said Changi Airport Group's Lim Ching Kiat, senior vice-president for market development.

The local Swiss community provided strong support, he said.

In June 2011, when the Swiss carrier's CEO was in town, the embassy organised an event with Changi Airport as well as Swiss companies based here to lobby for the service to be reinstated.

Mr Lim said: "Swiss has a strong brand name in Europe and even when it was just SIA operating the route, we heard of cases of Swiss businessmen who would go to Bangkok before coming here because they wanted to fly Swiss."

With the new service, they can fly with their home carrier direct to Singapore, he said.

Despite the current slowdown in Europe, demand for flights between the region and Singapore has continued to grow.

In the year to end-February, total passenger traffic hit 2.6 million, an 8 per cent growth on 12 months earlier.

While the Asia-Pacific region will continue to account for the bulk of Changi's traffic, it is in the airport's interests to woo other markets as well, Mr Lim said.

"The vision is for Changi to be an international air hub so we are keen to put in resources to also grow and maintain our long-haul links," he said.

Apart from Europe, Changi is also actively exploring new opportunities in other regions like Africa and Russia, he said.

karam@sph.com.sg