Recently, I received a press release email from my local airport, San Diego International. The title read: “Edelweiss to begin nonstop seasonal service between Zurich and San Diego.” You’ve got to love it when your local airport adds new service, but this time was a little different than usual. Normally, KSAN “new service” press releases involve Southwest or Alaska, and to places like Newark, Tampa, or Cabo San Lucas. Did this one really say Zurich? And who exactly is Edelweiss? For an airport that receives very little wide-body international service (JL to Narita and BA to Heathrow), this KSAN press release was big news.
Being a card-carrying #AvGeek, I’ve heard of Edelweiss but I can’t say I know much else about them or what they do. In fact, my first thoughts when hearing the name weren’t even related to the airline.
For most Americans, the term edelweiss brings mental images of two completely aviation unrelated things. “Edelweiss” was a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music, as a statement of Austrian patriotism. Ok, I’ll admit I don’t know much about that musical (the famed movie came out more than 10 years before I was born).
For those of us from a younger generation, the word edelweiss evokes memories of a certain scene in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. When the soldiers find a dead German with an edelweiss flower stuck into his uniform, it is explained that the flower only grows above a certain altitude in the Alps and that he climbed up there to get it. In this sense, the edelweiss flower is purported to be the mark of a true soldier.
So, what about Edelweiss the airline? Edelweiss is the unofficial national flower of Switzerland, and Edelweiss Air uses that flower as the main feature of their aircraft livery. Founded in 1995 in Switzerland, Edelweiss Air began operations with a single McDonnell Douglas MD-83. The early fleet was replaced by three Airbus A320-200s in 1998 and two A330-200s in 1999. The airline operated as a small leisure airline until 2008, when it was sold to Swiss International Air Lines. Edelweiss therefore became part of the Lufthansa group since Lufthansa had acquired Swiss International in 2005.
Edelweiss is currently operating as the niche leisure airline in the Lufthansa Group. The business model seems to be to provide service to leisure destinations at lesser frequency than would be normally provided by mainline Lufthansa aircraft. They currently operate a fleet of six Airbus A320-200s, two Airbus A330-300s, and one Airbus A340-300 which was recently acquired from Swiss International Air Lines. Three additional A340s are due to be transferred from Swiss between April 2017 and September 2018.
The four-engined Airbus planes are being introduced to expand Edelweiss’ long-haul services to additional leisure destinations. The first A340 was acquired on December 1, 2016 and was been named “Melchsee-Frutt“, after the mountain resort village in Switzerland. According to Andreas Meier, Edelweiss Head of Corporate Communications, “the aircraft are between 12 – 15 years old and can be easily used for another 10 years. The aircraft has been re-engineered inside with latest-generation seats and a new interior design.”
“In terms of range and capacity, the A340 is the ideal aircraft for Edelweiss,” says CEO Bernd Bauer with satisfaction. “Our new flagship enables us to reach new holiday destinations that were unreachable with our other long-haul aircraft.”
Most of Edelweiss’ destinations are of the leisure variety, including seasonal long-haul destinations like Rio de Janeiro; Calgary and Vancouver; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Malé, Maldives; Phuket, Thailand; and Las Vegas and Tampa in the U.S. With the addition of the A340s to the fleet, Edelweiss has announced new routes to San José, Costa Rica; Cancún, Mexico; and the forementioned San Diego, California. Typically these long-haul destinations are served two to three times a week either by the A330 or A340 aircraft. The A330 are configured for a capacity of 315 passengers (Business Class: 27, Economy Max: 56, Economy: 232), while the A340 have a capacity of 314 passengers (Business Class: 27, Economy Max: 76, Economy: 211). Additionally, when necessary, the fleet can be extended by any of various Swiss aircraft types with a Swiss crew.
I would expect that as the three additional A340s come online, we could see additional new destinations or increased frequency to current destinations that are largely un-served by mainline Swiss and Lufthansa aircraft. Mr. Meier says “we will increase existing destinations and add new destinations. The clarifications for new, future destinations are ongoing. However, nothing is decided at the moment.”
Also, it is possible that due to its aging fleet, in the future Edelweiss could look to new more fuel efficient aircraft in the future such as the Boeing 787 or 777-8 and 9, or the Airbus A350 and A330neo. As part of the Lufthansa Group, they have access to additional former Swiss and Lufthansa aircraft, or to aircraft purchasing power of the large conglomerate, however, Edelweiss states that currently there are no plans for this to occur.
As for the new San Diego service, the twice-weekly service from Zurich to KSAN will be only the third nonstop service to Europe from “America’s Finest City” (Condor begins FRA-SAN service on May 1, 2017). Although the flight is currently only planned for twice weekly, Andreas Meier told me “Edelweiss is positioned as a holiday airline. The needs of holiday travelers are different from business people. If the demand for direct flights from San Diego to Zurich is high, we will discuss an increase in frequencies.” Regardless of how Edelweiss chooses to expand their operations in the future I will be ready, with camera in hand, for the arrival of a beautiful new livery to San Diego on June 9, 2017. On behalf of San Diegans, I gladly welcome Edelweiss to sunny southern California.