Struggling airline will eliminate its Embraer ERJ-145s and Saab 2000s, and expand BAE Systems Avro RJ fleet

Swiss International Air Lines will axe the Embraer ERJ-145 and Saab 2000 regional types from its short-haul network beginning later this year, and address its pilot overcapacity issues.

The airline, which is to be acquired by Lufthansa, will rely on an expanded BAE Systems Avro RJ fleet for its regional services.

Swiss’s board has decided that, from the beginning of its 2005-6 winter season that starts in October, the Saab 2000s will be grounded while the ERJ-145s will be withdrawn from the fleet by the end of winter. Swiss operates a 35-strong regional fleet including nine ERJ-145s, seven Saab 2000s, and 19 Avro RJs.

It will increase its Avro RJ complement – currently comprising four RJ85s and 15 RJ100s – to a total of 24 aircraft. One of its existing RJ100s will leave the fleet, but six others will be leased early next year, although Swiss declines to disclose the source.

The nine ERJ-145s will be leased to other carriers. Swiss says that negotiations to this effect are “already well advanced”.

As a result of a series of capacity cuts, the struggling airline is suffering from pilot overcapacity, but aims to address this later this year. “We have to reduce the number of regional pilots to the number we need,” says Swiss chief executive Christoph Franz.

The existing labour agreement with its regional pilots ends on 31 October, the day after the Saab 2000 fleet will be grounded. “Swiss is serving as an unemployment agency and we want to stop this as of November,” says Franz.

The airline’s European services – for which the airline also uses Airbus narrowbodies – have struggled to perform financially and Swiss stressed when it published its half-year results last week that its short-haul operations are proving “less than satisfactory”.

Swiss has long been planning to restructure and simplify its European fleet, a move which has caused friction with its pilots’ unions. The carrier says that the reduction in the regional fleet is a “major step” towards establishing “competitive production structures” in all of the airline’s markets.

Despite the restructuring, the airline is retaining its much-delayed order for 30 Embraer 170s and 195s, with deliveries currently set to start in 2008. “Whether we’ll postpone it again or not I don’t know,” says chief financial officer Ulrik Svensson.


Additional reporting by Victoria Moores in London

Source: Flight International