Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH

TEA Switzerland is to begin scheduled operations in November in the run up to its withdrawal from the charter market and a change of identity to become easyJet Switzerland.

The change will also see the disposal of its Boeing 737-400, and the addition of four new 737-300s from easyJet UK's current order for 12 aircraft. The UK low-cost carrier bought a 40% stake in TEA - the largest allowed by a foreign investor under Swiss law - earlier this year.

TEA still has a fleet of four 737-300s and a -700. The -700 and one -300 are still maintaining charter operations, while three other -300s, which are leased from International Lease Finance (ILFC), are on wet subleases to Air Afrique (two) and easyJet (one).

According to TEA managing director Marcus Seiler, the -300 will be withdrawn from charter service at the end of October and will join the aircraft now leased to easyJet to begin services three times daily from Zurich and Geneva to London Luton. The -700 will continue operating charters until its lease runs out at the end of March, when it will be returned to ILFC, while the Air Afrique subleases to the African airline will become direct ILFC leases at the end of October. TEA will take four new 737-300s between April and the end of 1999 through easyJet, as part of the UK airline's current order for 12 -300s.

TEA's name will change on 1 April as it completes its move from Basle to Geneva. It will operate six aircraft by the end of 1999. Seiler says route plans are not finalised, but will follow the easyJet strategy of flying to major European cities and holiday destinations.

Consolidation in the Swiss tour operator market in recent years has reduced the number of companies from about 20 to three, says Seiler. This has put charter airlines under intense pressure to cut prices, increased even more since Kuoni founded its own airline, Edelweiss.

Seiler says this sort of competition can be handled better by a bigger airline such as Crossair. The Swissair subsidiary has responded to TEA's withdrawal from the market with an announcement that it is increasing its Boeing MD-80 charter fleet to 12 aircraft with a new MD-83 in January 1999.

Source: Flight International