After 12 years our company has resume flights between London and Sion, at the heart of Valais Alpine region. It was precisely 15:45 on Saturday 4 February when flight LX2551 landed in Sion, originating from London Heathrow, operated by Helvetic Airways
Due to the important in coming ski traffic identified between UK and Switzerland, SWISS decided to start direct flights to/from Sion during February. This new seasonal route has been particularly appreciated by our UK customers in order to reach the various ski resorts in the heart of Valais (Crans – Montana, Verbier, Zermatt) in a very short time, avoiding long and costly ground transportation from Geneva. They could almost disembark already wearing their ski boots! And for the return flight, reaching Sion Airport even 30 minutes before the departure would be enough to get on the plane on time, ‘’I only got very positive feedback from our customers’’, says Geneva Station Manager Joel Dubuis. It should be added that this was possible due to an efficient and professional handling provided by Sion Airport.
Meanwhile, flights to/from Zürich were also popular – for some passengers a chance for a magic sight – seeing flight over the Alps and for some customers the possibility to connect onto another flight out of Zurich, just after 40 minutes flight from Sion.
All in all, four rotations were planned in February to serve the strong incoming ski traffic from the United Kingdom. This was feasible by the fact that Sion Airport has upgraded its navigational infrastructures with GPS – based approach allowing aircraft to land even in challenging winter weather conditions.
The last previous touchdown of an LX commercial flight in canton Valais can be traced back to March 2005. At that time, the added value of landing at the conveniently located alpine airport was frequently offset by poor visibility or overall unfavorable weather conditions, forcing our flights to divert to Geneva.
This has change, since the airport is equipped with a more accurate and safer approach based on GPS geolocation system.
Until now, only the Embraer 190 operated by our wet lease partner Helvetic Airways has been cleared by the FOCA (Federal Office of Civil Aviation) for such new approach. Additionally the few pilots assigned to those operations had to go through officially approved simulator training.
It can be noted this was the first ever commercial flight in Switzerland to be operated with this brand new navigational approach system.
So as to be capable of having the aircraft positioned in the capital city of Valais, it were decided to make the original Zurich-Sion ferry flight saleable to the public: this was quite a hit amongst aviation enthusiast. These ‘scenic positioning flights’ were booked at more than 90% seat load factor.
Nonetheless the original, main idea had been to attract English ski tourists from the London area over the half-term vacations by flying them closer to Swiss resorts such as Zermatt or Verbier, allowing those passengers to make a gain up to two hours’ journey time in comparison to Geneva. The flights, planned exclusively over the four Saturdays of February, recorded good loads and were booked in the highest booking classes.
The goal of these rotations was twofold; to prove to be operationally feasible and commercially viable. The first estimates are quite encouraging.
Contributors: Anthony Lascaugiraud and Joel Dubuis