Emirates requests Zurich-Mexico flight

22 Feb 2016 by Alex McWhirter

Will the Swiss government approve Emirates’ request to fly between Switzerland (most probably Zurich) and Mexico ?

According to a report in yesterday’s Tages Anzeiger the Dubai-based carrier has officially asked the Swiss for fifth-freedom (the carriage of a passenger between two countries by the airline of a third) traffic rights on this route which is not currently served by any other airline.

It is unclear whether or not the Swiss CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) will grant these traffic rights to Emirates. That’s because the national airline, Swiss, is already a minnow on routes linking its home country with the Gulf. The latter are dominated by Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

Furthermore, the Gulf carriers offer flights from Geneva as well as Zurich whereas Swiss flies to the Gulf only from Zurich.

Why does Emirates need to make a stop in Europe? Why can’t it fly Dubai-Mexico non-stop? After all, Emirates will soon inaugurate Dubai-Panama which will be the world’s longest non-stop flight.

It is because Mexico City airport lies at high altitude and this limits factors like range and take-off performance. And it means that although Emirates could fly non-stop Dubai-Mexico it would not be able to do the same in reverse.

But why Zurich? It is because, as noted above, there are no other direct flights serving this route so Emirates stands a greater chance of success.

However, obtaining fifth-freedom rights is a murky business with many factors determining an applicant’s success.

Emirates must be hoping the Swiss will look favourably on its application seeing as the link could develop trade and tourism between the two countries.

Conversely the Swiss must know that Emirates is both aggressive and dynamic and if it were to fly Dubai-Zurich-Mexico it would mean yet more capacity being added to the Dubai-Zurich route as Emirates would likely wish to operate an extra flight rather than use an existing one (as a continuation to Mexico).

Right now there are three daily flights on the Dubai route. Emirates operates two of them with an A380 while Swiss uses a smaller  A330-300.  It’s a similar inbalance to the Emirates/KLM scenario between Amsterdam and Dubai (see news December 19, 2015).

But the chances of Emirates being granted the rights are slim. That’s because Swiss is part of the Lufthansa Group and the latter has made no secret of what it thinks of the Gulf airlines. 

Indeed in recent months both Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines have abandoned a number of routes to the Gulf and Asia and have publicly blamed the Gulf carriers for their (the routes) demise.

Quoted in Tages Anzeiger, Swiss (Airlines) spokesperson Karin Mueller said, “Swiss calls for a restrictive application of fifth-freedom traffic rights.” Switzerland has a liberal aviation policy “[it is an] open market, coupled with protections against market abuse which the government supports.”

Developments are awaited with interest.

Alex McWhirter

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