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Low-cost airlines boost Geneva airport

Jean-Pierre Jobin is in the pilot's seat at Geneva airport

Geneva airport is experiencing more growth than its rivals in other parts of the country – a result which its director puts down to the arrival of low-cost airlines.

In an interview with swissinfo, Jean-Pierre Jobin talks about his winning strategy for Geneva and its relations with Switzerland’s two other main airports: Zurich and Basel.

Virtually abandoned by national carrier Swissair in 1996, Geneva airport has since managed to bounce back to become one of the country’s strongest-performing air hubs.

Earlier this month it said that the number of passengers passing through the airport had risen by 6.2 per cent in 2004, the second consecutive year of growth. Net profit was recorded at SFr28 million ($22 million).

For Jobin, who will be retiring in January, the results are the vindication of the strategy he has followed since taking over 12 years ago.

swissinfo: How do you explain that among Switzerland’s three national airports, Geneva is the one that has experienced the strongest growth?

Jean-Pierre Jobin: Geneva airport is doing well because its markets in western Switzerland and France have been developing. We have also been lucky enough to have a low-cost airline operating in and out of Geneva – easyJet. It is a simple, cheap and efficient product customers like and use more and more.

This airline has stimulated the industry. Even their traditional competitors – around 70 per cent of our business – have increased the number of passengers they transport to and from Geneva. And like easyJet, they have benefited from Swiss, the new national carrier, cutting back its operations here.

Swiss has chosen to concentrate on Zurich, at the expense of Geneva and Basel. We regret this, but other companies have reacted and will pick up the slack.

swissinfo: Are the departures of Swissair and Swiss and the arrival of easyJet enough to explain Geneva’s growth?

J.-P.J: We never considered ourselves to be a hub for a particular airline. Zurich was a hub for Swissair, as Basel was for Crossair. Because of this Basel had four million passengers in 2000, and Zurich 23 million, with around 40 per cent of these people in transit.

With the disappearance of Swissair and cutbacks at Swiss, there are fewer transit passengers. Zurich had 17 million people last year and Basel 2.5 million.

swissinfo: Are you competing with Basel and Zurich or do you have complementary roles?

J.-P.J: Both. We created a Swiss airports’ association about five years ago whose members include Zurich, Basel, Bern, Lugano and Altenrhein near St Gallen. We talk about our experiences and we try to cut costs by making common purchases.

But we have to admit, and even we don’t like to talk about it, that we are competing with each other to attract airlines.

swissinfo: Geneva airport has just launched an advertising campaign in cantons Bern and Solothurn…

J.-P.J: Where we find new customers really depends on the product we are trying to sell. With the low-cost services in Geneva, we can attract passengers who would be outside our usual market.

We now have many people from cantons Bern, Solothurn, Aargau and even Zurich who come to Geneva to fly to Barcelona or Madrid for SFr50 ($39.50).

swissinfo: Besides low-cost and traditional airlines, what are the other growth sectors at Geneva airport?

J.-P.J: Some traditional companies have begun to offer luxury flights for wealthy clients and businesspeople. There are also more and more companies who are no longer relying on airlines and hiring an aircraft or buying a business plane.

swissinfo-interview: Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

Top five destinations from Geneva:
London (1.6 million passengers)
Paris (1 million)
Zurich (580,000)
Amsterdam (480,000)
Frankfurt (369,000)

Market share:
easyJet (30.5%)
Swiss (14.6%)
British Airways (9.9%)
Air France (7.6%)
Lufthansa (6.3%)

Passenger figures (2004):

Zurich: 17,252,906 (+1.2%), five million approximately in transit.

Geneva: 8,593,114 (+6.2%), 260,000 in transit.

Basel: 2,549,083 (+2.4%), 50,000 in transit.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR