Zurich Airport’s hub status is “at risk”, Lufthansa CEO warns

This content was published on July 14, 2019 - 11:51
CEO Carsten Spohr of German airline Lufthansa sees no "Greta effect* on passenger numbers. Keystone

Zurich Airport risks losing its hub status if flight time restrictions are rolled out, warns the CEO of Lufthansa, the German parent company of Swiss International Air Lines.

Carsten Spohr made the warning in an interview published on Sunday by the Swiss German-language weekly NZZ am Sonntag.

He argues that bringing forward take-offs and landings by up to 25 minutes late in the evening, as is currently being discussed, would cause existential problems for hub operations at Zurich Airport.

“We are watching the development of the Zurich location with great concern,” he said.

From Zurich, SWISS and Edelweiss offer 45 intercontinental destinations thanks to the hub system with its finely tuned shaft feeders. Without the hub system, Zurich would have to settle for a single-digit number of long-haul destinations, even if the latest small long-haul aircraft were used, according to the Lufthansa CEO.

Airport hubs are larger facilities that serve as a route network for multiple airlines.

Fatal for the Swiss economy

“The individual measures seem to be bearable, but overall they are more than dangerous,” continued Spohr, who is also a pilot. “You simply have to know that the Swiss hub system can only be restricted up to a certain point. If you fall below certain thresholds, the entire network is endangered. That would also be fatal for the Swiss economy.”

No "Greta effect" on passenger numbers

Spohr downplayed the notion that heated debates on climate change and their focus on air traffic pollution might make a dent on demand for air travel. So far, there has been no “Greta effect” – a reference to the Swedish teen Greta Thunberg who has been at the helm of a global youth movement skipping school to urge governments to tackle climate change.

On Saturday, Zurich Airport was the focal point of young demonstrators urging passengers to abandon air travel, a high carbon-emitting activity.

“The discussion of climate change is not leading to restraint with bookings. People want to fly,” says Spohr. He noted that 2018 had been a record year for the whole of the Lufthansa Group. He expects passenger numbers to rise by 4% in 2019.  Swiss International Air Lines is also showing growth.

Spohr criticised the increasingly widespread taxes imposed by some countries on passengers, which he considers to be unfair from the point of view of competition.

The manager also condemned the low prices of budget airlines, but defended Eurowings, Lufthansa's low-cost subsidiary, which sometimes offers flights for less than 35 euros: "It's necessary to protect ourselves on the domestic market". he said.

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