Yet Another New Low Cost Airline Is Planning Transatlantic Flights

Filed Under: Travel

Over the last few years there has been an explosion in low cost airlines operating long haul flights, particularly between Europe and North America. Previously, the low cost model had not been suitable to long haul flights, both because the aircraft operating the flights were not fuel efficient and the fuel itself was too expensive.

But with the introduction of planes like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A321LR, as well as lower crude oil prices (when compared to five years ago), airlines can operate longer flights at lower costs.

We’ve written in detail about some of the dominant low cost carrier that have entered the transatlantic market, including:

Swiss Skies

A number of airline industry veterans are planning to launch a new airline from Basel, Switzerland. The airport is physically located in France, but it’s right on the border of Switzerland, France and Germany.

I flew in and out of Basel airport for Easter this year for the simple reason that it was the only place I could find affordable flights from London for that holiday period booking a few months in advance. The airport’s most interesting feature is that it is so close to the border that when you are exiting the airport, you can choose between entering France, or Switzerland.

The new project has been given the working title ‘Swiss Skies,’ although this may not be the actual name of the airline, if it ‘gets off the ground.’ The founders are currently shopping their idea to investors, and hope to raise $100 million and commence operations as soon as next year.

They want to start with flights to the US, and are also eyeing services to Asia and South America in the longer term. They believe their cost base will be around 30% lower than their full service, long haul competitors, like the Lufthansa Group.

They plan to start with a fleet of 16 aircraft, growing to a total fleet of 38, although they have not detailed which aircraft type they plan to use. Presumably the 737 MAX or A321LR would be suitable as it is easier to fill than a wide body plane, although this plane wouldn’t have the range to reach the west coast of the USA.

Primera Air already operate the Airbus A321 NEO to North America

Bottom line

With the right aircraft, I could see this being a success. Basel itself does not have a large population (around 170,000) but is fairly close and well connected to much larger cities like Zurich that have populations with high incomes, and also expensive fares.

I expect there will be demand for passengers willing to travel from regional airports in order to secure much lower fares.

The low cost market flying between Europe and North America is certainly becoming crowded!

Have you flown a low cost carrier between Europe and North America?

  1. James, BSL isn’t divided between a French and German part, but between a French and Swiss part (and therefore has a French and Swiss exit after baggage claim). Having a French and German exit wouldn’t make sense as both countries are members of the European Customs Union, while Switzerland isn’t. Besides, you wouldn’t physically end up in Germany anyways, as the whole airport is situated in France and only connected to Switzerland through a duty-free road. To reach Germany, you have to drive a few kilometers through either France or Switzerland.

  2. So at 67 years of age, I probably skew considerably older than most of the readers of this blog (and get of my lawn!!!). I collected my first frequent flyer miles (TWA) in the mid 1980’s, and had my first co-branded miles credit card (also TWA by Chase Manhattan) in the late 80’s. But even before then, in 1979, like many boomers of my age, I back-packed and hosteled my way around Europe for a summer – and got there by flying one of the pioneer low cost transatlantic carriers – Laker Airways. Round-trip fare in coach was $199 for JFK to LGW. Freddie’s airline operated 747’s. My first jumbo jet experience and my first international trip. Anyone else fly LKR?

  3. I’d be really interested to see a timeline-of-sorts or some other comparison between the (U)LCCs’ rise and the subsequent/consequent decline in services (hard and soft product) from the legacy carriers. The LCCs are often heralded as good for the consumer because they add competition to the market which generally results in lower airfares for everyone and allows those folks to travel who may not have been able to previously. But if operating costs for legacy carriers remain the same, or even increase, while being required to lower fares to be competitive against LCCs, something has to give. And not everyone wants to fly TATL or TPAC in basic economy but those same pax likely cannot afford J or F. It feels like the LCCs are essentially eliminating a regular Y (or even Y+) option altogether, the few bells and whistles it does provide over basic economy – as legacy carriers race to the bottom. Additionally, I’d expect to see regular Y and Y+ to improve as the legacy carriers introduce their own LCCs (LEVEL, Joon, etc) which should theoretically return Y and Y+ services to non-LCC standards. But this doesn’t seem to be happening. Is there simply no market for regular some-frills Y anymore?

  4. I don’t see this working. Mainly because it’s not really that close to major cities. It would be like starting an LCC from say Manchester to Evansville Indiana. Sure it might be cheap but why fly that route other than a few random tourist and frugal types. Not trying to be negative just what I’m thinking.

  5. Longhaul service out of BSL has always been difficult, although there are a few very major firms (Novartis, Roche, Syngenta, Clariant) and also an international organization (Bank of International Settlements) located there. Both Swissair and Air France tried in the 1990, and a few others thereafter. But not many have stayed for a long time. There is a once weekly seasonal AirTransat service to Montreal, which has been going for many years every summer. But that’s a once weekly 200 seater …

  6. @DaninMCI – Basel is a major international train station, with an awful lot of traffic. I don’t recall if the airport has a rail link, like GVA and ZRH, but if it does, there’s a potentially very large market. Another factor that might help would be that people are willing to be a bit more flexible when traveling on their own dime.

  7. I love Basel, it’s a great little town. I had family living there for a few years. I haven’t flown through the airport across the border, but used to fly into Frankfurt and then take the ICE down to Basel. I could definitely see this working if they target the right markets. Basel has a great train station and you’re only an hour and a half from Zurich, 4ish hours to Paris, and 3 hours to Frankfurt if I remember correctly (it’s been a few years since I’ve last been). Basel could be a great backpacking springboard for younger people from the US. Its a surprisingly connected city for its size, thanks in part to the pharmaceutical industry.

  8. @Christian there is no train connection from Basel to the airport. There is a frequent bus running from the SBB train station to the airport and it takes about 20 minutes.
    I can’t see this working but lets first see if they find the money.

  9. @Mike – did the same thing out of CMH for domestic travel. I never took PEX across the pond however, As I recall, they had $29 fares on several domestic routes, and matched LKR for transatlantic pricing. I also remember that competition created by LKR and PEX forced Air France to create and sell great land/air packages. My first trip to Paris that didn’t involve a hostel was an AF land/air package. $499 got me RT coach from JKF to ORY, 3 nights hotel in Paris, 3 nights hotel in Marseille, and RT transfer from ORY to Marseille. I wonder if they ever made any money on those. But damn I miss those days.

  10. I read elsewhere that their first planned route is CVG-BSL. Yeah, I take back what I said, this will never work.

  11. Even tough Basel is a smaller city, I can see this work. Basel is 3 hours by train from Paris and Frankfurt, 2 hours from Eastern Switzerland and many cities eastern France and its also just one hour from Bern and Zurich. I can definitely see people driving or riding a train to take those flights when the price is right. With an interline agreement with easyJet or Wizz Air they could reach even more markets.

  12. I flew Laker from London to JFK in Oct 1977. The fare was $100. And I bought my ticket at the gate-right before I got on the plane.

  13. I wonder why they have not considered Geneva airport. Geneva would have been a much better option to make the hub of this new airline because there are only a few direct connections to US. Plus it has a huge easyjet base – 20-50$ flights all over Europe. There is no near by competitor airport. Zurich airport (2.5 hrs by car) in the vicinity which has direct flights but they are very expensive.

  14. I agree that any LCC looking to do long-haul from Europe should have “Airport has train station” as one of the first filters.

    I never flew Laker, but I did fly Braniff (“The Big Orange”) in 1979

  15. Please, please, PLEASE…launch flights to PHL. The airfares from PHL to most European gateways is so obscenely high because (a) AA virtually has a monopoly on the airport, (b) no United flights to EWR mean you either have to take the train + plane or transit through ORD, (c) no ULCCs have entered the transatlantic market yet from PHL. This market is ripe for disruption, and I’d love an option from PHL that lands me a mere ~2 hours from Lausanne. Now if only they could include a mint-like business class for <$750 E/W. Chances?

  16. I remember taking inaugural Swissair service between Basel and Newark. Problem is that if you’re going to or coming from Zürich it’s not the most convenient as the train doesn’t stop right at the airport … you need to take the bus to the railway station. If you’ve just had a £9 EasyJet flight then it doesn’t matter much, but if you’ve just come from across the Atlantic it’s kind of annoying.

  17. InterCity Trains in Europe are expensive – for LCC from distant airports to make money it needs either airplane connections or bus connections (maybe regional S-bahn type might work). If one has to take $50+ train to get to airport then the flight is no-longer low-cost for customers.

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