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Capital competition Why Bern Airport struggles to take off

A plane on the runway at Bern Airport

A SkyWork plane on the runway at Bern Airport 


SkyWork Airlines, a Swiss company that flies to various European destinations from Bern Airport, is currently grounded while its management tries to secure its financial future. Why do airlines in the Swiss capital struggle to make money? 

Bern Airportexternal link is surrounded by beautiful scenery, it’s a 30-second stroll from the plane to the airport building, and security and baggage retrieval are equally painless. Yet the number of passengers is tiny compared with those in Geneva, Basel and Zurich.

airport graphic

There are several reasons:

It’s expensive. No budget airlines operate from Bern, and a SkyWork flight to London City Airport, for example, usually costs CHF120-CHF240 ($120-$240) – one way! Admittedly you don’t have to buy a train ticket to or from one of the other airports (a return from Bern to Zurich airport with a half-tax card costs CHF56), but still. 

Bern Airport

1929: an airport is established outside Bern at Belp.

1947: voters reject expansion.

1950: the first concrete runway is built.

2014: the name is changed from Regional Airfield Bern-Belp to Bern Airport.

2016: British airline BMI Regional ends its flights between Bern and Munich.

end of infobox

Poor transport links. Getting from the airport to the city can be a challenge: there’s no shuttle (there used to be but apparently it wasn’t cost-effective) and, assuming you don’t want to spend CHF50 on a taxi, you’ll have to get a bus to Belp train station and change onto a train heading to Bern. This confusing hassle takes at least 30 minutes. 

Competition from Geneva, Basel and Zurich. Switzerland’s three largest airports are all served by budget and intercontinental airlines and are within two hours of Bern by direct train (see graphic). It’s true that checking in and going through security at Bern Airport is a dream compared with the big airports, but that train-bus trip to the airport really is off-putting. 

Limited timetable. The 18 European airportsexternal link served by SkyWork in summer 2017 (eight in the winter) included some interesting destinations, for example Ibiza, Cagliari, Zadar and Sylt. For several, however, there was only one flight a week.           

Limited to Europe. SkyWork’s fleetexternal link of 31-seat and 50-seat planes is limited to 2,860 kilometres, ruling out the Americas, southern Africa and Asia – a core tourist market for Bern. The short runway (1,730 metres) means large jet planes can’t take off or land.   

Few business travellers. If you’re flying to Switzerland on business, you’re probably heading for Geneva or Zurich. Bern is for politicians, diplomats and tourists. 

Have you travelled through Bern Airport recently? Why/why not?

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