Who flies within tiny Switzerland?

In this archive photo, passengers board an Adria Airways plane in Lugano. ©ti-press

The grounding of Adria Airways – and its flights between two Swiss cities – has people wondering why anyone would fly such a short distance, especially when climate awareness is at an all-time high.

This content was published on September 30, 2019 - 16:50

As the Swiss parliament discusses how to revise Switzerland’s CO2 law, passengers who had planned to fly with Adria AirwaysExternal link between Zurich and Lugano are now looking at train timetables. The Slovenian airline, which was grounded on September 23 on account of financial problems, filed for bankruptcy on September 30.

“Most of [the 1,220 affected passengers] are transfer passengers – people from canton Ticino or northern Italy – who have connecting overseas flights from Zurich,” Stefan Eiselin, editor-in-chief of AerotelegraphExternal link, told Swiss public radio, SRF.

Codeshare partner Swiss International Air LinesExternal link advised passengers to contact their booking offices and to “travel by train from Lugano to Zurich and vice versa. In return, [they] will receive train vouchers in Zurich and Lugano, or can refund [their] train tickets via”.

On September 30 SWISS said it had cancelled all future flights between Zurich and Lugano.

Plane vs train

The flight takes 45 minutes and a return costs about CHF140 ($142). In comparison, the train ride from city centre to city centre takes about two hours and 15 minutes, and a round-trip costs CHF130; from airport to airport it’s just over three hours, and CHF150.

In terms of CO2, the train is the clear winner. According to ecopassenger.orgExternal link, the carbon footprint of the round-trip flight is 172kg, versus the 0.38kg of CO2 generated per person doing the same journey by train.

Asked whether it makes sense to offer such short flights when there are competitive rail options, Eiselin acknowledged that airlines needed to do more to reduce emissions.

“Eliminating replaceable short flights is only a small measure. For example, KLM has just announced that it’s dropping the Amsterdam to Brussels connection, and Austrian Airlines has already dropped some of its domestic flights. Ultimately, it’s the demand that decides.”

Changes in Lugano

SWISS International Airlines offers an Airtrain shuttle serviceExternal link between Basel railway station and Zurich Airport. When the Ceneri Base Tunnel opens in southern Switzerland next year, the train ride between Lugano and Zurich will be about 30 minutes faster.

“In the course of the current climate debate and in view of the opening of the Ceneri tunnel, we are in close and regular contact with the Swiss Federal Railways,” SWISS spokeswoman Sonja Ptassek told Though Adria is a SWISS codeshare partner, Ptassak noted that “there is currently no partner who could step in at such short notice with a certified aircraft and a suitably trained cockpit crew to guarantee a continuous flight schedule for Lugano Airport”.

In 2017, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation revoked the licence of Swiss airline Darwin, which was based in Lugano and owned by Adria Airlines.

Now only SWISS and Silver Air offer regular service from Lugano AirportExternal link.

Flying should be more expensive

Debates are currently underway in the Swiss parliament on how to cut CO2 emissions. On Wednesday, senators discussed how flight tickets should be subject to a levy of CHF30-150, depending on class and distance. Half of the revenue would go into a new climate fund, the rest into the general public budget.

Critics argue that charging a higher tax than surrounding countries would encourage people to fly via airports outside of Switzerland. The discussions are ongoing. In December, the House of Representatives voted 93 to 88 against adding a climate tax on plane tickets.

By 2030, Switzerland needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in order to meet the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.

September 28 is World News DayExternal link, which aims to raise public awareness of the critical role that newsrooms and journalists play in providing the public with credible and reliable news and views.

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