Intercontinental connectivity: vital to the Swiss economy

Text: Thomas Klühr

Thomas Klühr, CEO of  Swiss International Air Lines. Photo: Swiss
Thomas Klühr, CEO of Swiss International Air Lines. Photo: Swiss
Switzerland has benefited tremendously from globalisation. Today, an astonishing 70% of the country’s GDP is earned abroad.

Switzerland’s high-quality goods and sophisticated services are in demand all over the globe. As a result, the importance of aviation to the Swiss economy continues to grow. Some 43% of all Swiss exports (by value) are transported by air. And one tourist visitor in three to the country arrives in a plane. In the light of these trends, SWISS has steadily taken on an increasingly systemic role as a provider of intercontinental connectivity that is based on the specific needs of Switzerland’s export-oriented companies, tourism, and society. But the country’s aviation infrastructure must be further developed if SWISS is to continue to contribute to Swiss global success.

Shifting market demand
I believe that three clear trends can be observed in the structure of the Swiss economy.
First, the demand for Swiss products is increasingly shifting overseas. Take financial services, for instance, where the greatest growth potential now lies in Asia and South America. Or incoming tourism, where we are seeing sizeable rises in Chinese and Indian visitor numbers. As a result, intercontinental connectivity is becoming a key factor in Switzerland’s success.
Secondly, specialisation is further increasing. Swiss-based companies are focusing more and more on producing highly sophisticated goods such as hi-tech, pharmaceutical and luxury items – all high-value products that require special care in their transportation. This is, of course, a traditional Swiss strength. But it seems that such specialisation is further increasing, owing to the country’s high production costs.
Thirdly, timing is becoming more and more important, as just-in-time production and global supply chains demand the instant availability of services and goods. And for all three reasons, aviation is becoming even more vital to the Swiss economy.

“Made in Switzerland”
SWISS provides the connectivity that Swiss companies need to profit from these three trends. Our network of over 100 destinations and our entire product design are closely aligned to local market requirements. And our destination portfolio is built around the structure of the Swiss economy. To take just two examples: our San Francisco service underpins the ever-closer ties between Silicon Valley and Switzerland (such as Google’s research hub in Zurich), while our Zurich-Singapore route provides a vital direct link between these two key financial centres.
Our product is geared to the needs of the Swiss market, too. Take our Swiss WorldCargo division, for instance. Like most airlines, we transport freight in the bellies of all our planes. But our various cargo products are specifically designed for the Swiss market – such as our dedicated airfreight services for high-value items (like gold) and temperature-sensitive goods (such as pharmaceuticals).
Ultimately, too, SWISS acts as an ambassador of Switzerland abroad. We carry the Swiss flag on our tailfins, promoting Swiss quality from São Paulo to Mumbai. And in doing so, we strive to deliver on our promise of “Swissness” as well. We have invested over CHF 6 billion in new aircraft and lounges. So by the end of 2017, SWISS will have one of the most advanced fleets in Europe, in a further reflection of our home country’s image.

Further development essential
SWISS, then, plays a key role for Switzerland. Because only a Swiss-based hub carrier will design its network on the basis of local market demand and offer the associated sound and stable connections. A carrier with a hub abroad will design its network according to its home market conditions.
We are well aware of our responsibility to the Swiss export industry, and we will continue to invest in delivering the best possible air transport product. But if it is to connect Switzerland with the world, SWISS must be able to maintain its hub system – i.e. pursue a business model that interlinks its short- and long-haul services – at its Zurich home base. Without the transfer passengers that this hub model provides, we could only viably offer around half-a-dozen long-haul connections from Switzerland, instead of today’s 26 intercontinental routes.
Our Zurich Airport hub is now reaching its capacity limits. So if SWISS is to continue to play its vital transportation role for the Swiss economy, we must ensure the demand-based further development of the aviation infrastructure (such as the airports) in Switzerland. Only then can SWISS continue to connect Switzerland with the world.

Publicerad: 03 November, 2016