Swissair is introducing an Express brand to coincide with the launch on 5 November of wet-lease services by Debonair of the UK on behalf of the Swiss flag carrier and Italian independent airline Air One.

Debonair will operate one of its British Aerospace 146-200s, painted in Swissair Express colours, between Zurich and Venice and Bologna in Italy. The flights, codeshared by Swissair with Air One, were previously operated using a Saab 2000 turboprop wet-leased from Crossair.

Though initially being applied to the two Italian services, the launch of the Swissair Express brand marks the first stage in the Swiss flag carrier's strategy for tackling the arrival on its doorstep of low-cost carriers such as easyJet.

The UK-based carrier has a 40% stake in TEA Switzerland and is using the carrier to launch a series of low-cost services in Europe using Boeing 737s. Next year it is scheduled to change its name to easyJet Switzerland. Airline sources suggest the Italian flights will be used to test passenger reaction to the new brand, before a decision is made on widening it to include other services.

The sources add that it is unlikely that the Express brand will, at least initially, be used on services that Swissair operates itself.

Meanwhile, Debonair has reached agreement with an unspecified party to take delivery of another BAe 146 to service the Swissair routes.

The deal will satisfy a growing capacity requirement and overcome difficulties in restrictions on SAir subsidiary Crossair's operations to Italy.

Swissair parent SAir Group has been holding talks to acquire a stake in Air One for several months although no agreement has yet been reached.

The airline says that while no discussions are taking place, the talks could be re-opened in the future.

Source: Flight International