This is a decidedly awful day to be involved with a regional airline in Switzerland. Darwin Airline, also occasionally known as Etihad Regional, filed for insolvency protection just months after Etihad sold off its stake in the carrier. Separately, skier-focused PowdAir is on the brink of collapse just days before the carrier was set to launch its first season of service to Sion, atop the Alps.
An unfortunate name
Given its modern connotation choosing Darwin as an airline name might not be the smartest decision. In this case the carrier also suffers from the anti-Midas touch that Etihad brought to airlines in Europe. Which is not to say that Etihad is to blame for the failures of Air Berlin, Alitalia and Darwin Airlines/Etihad Regional. But the Abu Dhabi-based carrier didn’t seem to deliver much good for those operations either.
Etihad exited the operation in July 2017, with Luxembourg-based 4K Invest taking control. The group also owns Adria Airways of Slovenia so it is not without experience in running small airlines in Europe. Alas, it could not right the Darwin ship. The company hopes to offer maintenance services and wet-lease/charter operations to remain vaguely operational but scheduled commercial service will not be part of the plan.
Read More: Etihad Regional to launch in Switzerland
Ski trips wiped out
For PowdAir the story is a bit more dramatic. One of the company’s investors apparently walked away today, taking a sizable chunk of cash with them. The company is now seeking 3 million Pounds in financing to operate its full planned schedule or 1 million Pounds to restructure a more limited operation for the upcoming ski season. And, cute name not withstanding, things don’t look great.
The airline planned to build a hub at Sion Airport in the Swiss Alps, putting it a quick 30-60 minute drive from the regions top ski resorts. Passengers were offered the option to buy multi-flight packs at a 20% discount to help encourage sales while the flight options from multiple airports, mostly in England, had potential to draw a decent crowd.
Alas, that potential draw does not seem to have materialized. The company planned to launch operations on 11 December. The loss of funding puts that plan at risk. CFO Sean Pettit issued a statement on the situation:
Just as the PowdAir operation begins to snowball, today’s setback is both unexpected and potentially disastrous for our airline, booked passengers and resort partners. Operational systems and strategies are already in place, whilst ticket sales are very strong and exceeding expectations. PowdAir is ready to go, but we now desperately need investment. I’d personally like to hear from anyone interested in owning either a small or large part of our airline.
That same story suggests that the company has 5,000 customers so far. Based on the published fares of ~150GBP each direction that would seem to be just over $1,200,000 in revenue so far. That may be ahead of Pettit’s expectations, but it is hard to believe that anyone is going to show up with a $4mm check with that revenue plan. It doesn’t help that Geneva is an easyJet hub just a couple hours further away driving from the Valais ski resort customers PowdAir targeted.
PowdAir isn’t completely dead yet. But things do not look particularly promising at this time.
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