Small is beautiful: with an innovative approach to their client base and a healthy focus on marketing and customer service, regional airports have managed to weather the storm of the prevailing market conditions and to prove that "small being beautiful" really can take off.

AuteurO'Brien, Tom
Fonction Business

When travelling into or out of Switzerland there are more airports to choose from than the big three in Basel, Geneva and Zurich. The country is riled with smaller airfields, and there's even some where international charter and scheduled flights also take to the skies.

You might expect Switzerland's smaller regional airports to be facing a crisis as the air travel sector remains in the doldrums. However, a quick trip to Bern Airport found that they are in fact doing rather well, with a strong niche market and a loyal customer base.

In truth, many in the airline industry were hoping that this year would see a return to the pre-September 11 levels of air travel. However, with higher oil prices pushing up the cost of tickets, the airline industry looks set for another slow year.

Rationalisation programmes from the likes Switzerland's flag carrier, Swiss, and most of the other major international airlines, has seen the number of flights and also the number of destinations decrease across the board.

This in turn has made life difficult for many of the major air hubs as passenger numbers decreased; and one would expect things to be even harder if you run a smaller regional airport.

Being Well

Daniel Steffen, director of marketing, at Bern Airport told Swiss News that despite the tough times for the bigger airports, a smaller airport appealing to a niche market, as in Bern, can manage to get along quite well even when the likes of Swiss decide to pull out.

"Our main customers are business travellers using our scheduled flights to Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Vienna and Innsbruck," explained Steffen. "There are also tourists using our holiday charter flights to Elba, Corsica, Sardinia, Ibiza or Palma."

Bern also benefits from the winter holiday market with ski charters coming in every Saturday through the winter season from London, Manchester and Birmingham.

Bern Airport

The airport in Bern was in fact the first passenger airport to be set up in Switzerland, founded some 75 years ago. And for the past 70 years Bern Airport has been run as a private company, now with more than 600 shareholders.

The regional airport has remained a vital hub within Switzerland, despite never attracting the commercial investment that saw Zurich and Geneva expand their facilities over recent years.

However, the more cautious approach of the Bernese operation has paid off, with the likes of Zurich Airport seeing passenger numbers drop even after making sizeable...

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