A miserable day for airlines in Switzerland

Darwin Airlines SAAB 2000 by Aero Icarus via Flickr/CC-SA 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/aero_icarus/4309863053

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.

Read More: Etihad shutters Swiss branding, cashes out on Darwin

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.

The routes still for sale on the PowdAir site
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

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.

Header Image: Darwin Airlines SAAB 2000 by Aero Icarus via Flickr/CC-SA 2.0 

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Darwin was supposed to operate PowdAir’s key multiple-daily SIR-LCY/ZRH routes with Saab 2000s… I wonder if one had something to do with the other? PowdAir also apparently has an arrangement with a CR2 operator for the rest of its network, so in the slim chance it even gets off the ground, I doubt we’ll ever see PowdAir at LCY, given the operational restrictions

    1. I hadn’t connected those dots previously; very interesting indeed. Presumably the funding walked and then PowdAir killed the contract, cutting what little hope Darwin had of making it through the winter season. Ouch.

  2. I didn’t even know SIR was big enough for commercial service, let alone anything big enough to tote along ski equipment easily. Thanks for the knowledge Seth.

    1. Looks like a 6500′ runway at 1500′ elevation so the CR2 and SAAB 2000 would be fine there. The company does acknowledge that weather, particularly fog, can be a challenge. http://www.gcmap.com/airport/SIR

      I was moderately surprised to see that a CR2 was being used for the “premium” ski traffic. I’m not sure how one would get 30-50 ski bags in the cargo hold of that thing.

    2. I was up there when I was an exchange student but don’t recall seeing the airport. Im sure it is a dual use facility with the Swiss Air Force, on or off the record. I agree about the CR2 as well, plus as I recall the SAAB is a more comfortable ride.

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