Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) may be small and at the epicentre of the flight-shaming scandal but chief executive Rickard Gustafson remains upbeat about the airline’s future.
SAS is the national carrier of three states from Northern Europe – Denmark, Sweden and Norway – but it is considered being too small to survive on its own in the long term.
In 2018, it ranked 51st on a global scale in terms of traffic carried (in RPKs), just beating Virgin Australia.
It has been almost a given that SAS would be taken over sooner or later, it even actively tried to slip under the wings of its long-term alliance partner Lufthansa.
But for many reasons, a deal never materialized, and it doesn’t look it will anytime soon.
So SAS has to rely on its own devices for the time being.
One of its biggest assets is the affluent Scandinavian market, which also sees high numbers of air travel per capita as distances can be far, even on regional routes, and several bodies of water in the region such as the Baltic Sea make flying the most viable option for many.
“We have a very important market here that we can play and that can be used to our favor,” Gustafson told AirlineRatings in Copenhagen.
“We will do everything to create a very sustainable, profitable and efficient company. Once we have done that I think good things are going to happen to us.”
Gustafson as referring to overdue consolidation, including finding a new strong partner for SAS.
“That’s not happening right now to a large extent. But when the time comes it is better when you can participate in a partition from a position of strength,” he added.
PRESSURE ON MANY FRONTS
SAS has been under strong pressure recently on many fronts – showing a steep decline in profits, facing tough competition from local low-cost carriers like Norwegian and on top of that resentment to fly in parts of its home markets.
The term flight shaming and Greta Thunberg stem from Sweden, after all.
But SAS tries to be upbeat and turn things around in its favor.
“I am pleased to see the enormous changes we have been driving through the organization in the last few years,” said Gustafson.
“That’s the reason we are still around, believe in our future and can still invest in the most modern technology towards a one-type fleet.
“Once we (have) created the long-term sustainable and profitable company I am sure the ownership issue will solve itself.”
“One type fleet” has been a buzzword at SAS and it must sound like a hugely attractive objective at a carrier that only a few years ago seemed like Noah’s ark in the diversity of its fleet.
“We are coming from a history where SAS had a large number of different aircraft types which created a lot of complexity and additional cost,” acknowledged Gustafson.
“Now for the first time in our history we are having a line of sight of what we call one type fleet.
“In the core SAS itself we will fly A320neos, Enhanced A330s and A350s. Our ambition is to get mixed fleet flying one day, so our pilots can operate both the long haul and short-haul aircraft, just as our cabin crews already do.”
A350 A BIG STEP
The biggest step forward in a long time is the airline’s first Airbus A350 showcased at an event in Copenhagen this week. Seven more are to be delivered within a year.
The A350 sports the new SAS livery, the first change since 1998, a subdued, sleek Nordic design style.
The former bright orange of the engine cowlings has been dropped and the letters SAS been added to the forward fuselage in huge boldface, appearing in a shiny silver-grey metallic finish not easily visible under bleak winter skies.
The cabin seats 300 passengers in total, 40 in Business Class, sporting the Vantage XL seats Qantas originally launched, in a 1-2-1 configuration, but highly customized to SAS.
The window seats are the ones to go for as the bed length there measures 2.06 meters versus just 1.96 meters elsewhere.
While the Business product resembles the current SAS offering on its A330s, the real novelty is 32 Collins seats in SAS Plus (Premium Economy), arranged in a 2-4-2 layout, including footrests, a 38-inch pitch and a 7’-inch recline.
Two more new features are to be found in SAS Go (economy class) seating 228 passengers in 3-3-3 layout.
Seats feature a 30-31-inch pitch and a much larger IFE screen at 11.6 inches’, versus 8.9 inches diameter on the A330s.
Here the mid-cabin is the place to go as the seatback recline is 6 inches’, compared to the aft cabin with just 5 inches.
New is a “cross-aisle” passageway, framed by two cabin walls in the middle of the two Economy cabins, making walking around the cabin much easier.
This is also important to reach an innovation in front of the galley in the very back – a “snack shop” kiosk. It sells munchies in between meal services, with the smallest items starting at €/US$3, and is also meant to encourage passengers to walk around.
From January 28, the A350 will be put on long haul flights from Copenhagen to Chicago, alternating with A330s.
By March, SAS will have received four A350s and will operate them on gradually enhanced services from Copenhagen to Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong and San Francisco.
AN IMPORTANT STEP IN SUSTAINABILITY
For SAS the A350, which is supposed to replace all seven A340-300s by late 2020, is also an important step to increase its credibility in terms of sustainability.
The airline was always one of the leaders of the industry in this respect, but ten or 20 years ago it wasn’t much in focus of the public.
That has changed dramatically.
“Sustainability is our most important issue looking forward, to create a path towards sustainable aviation,” SAS CCO Karl Sandlund told AirlineRatings.
Among other initiatives the carrier partners with Airbus for research of operational aspects of a future regional hybrid airliner.
In the shorter term, SAS will also be in the market for smaller jets below its A320neo fleet, a segment it currently serves through wet-leasing agreements with regional partners.
“Around 2023 or 2024 we need something going for us in the 120-130 seat segment,” said Gustafson.
“We are looking at the Airbus A220 and Embraer E2 Jets and how we can build isolated operating structures for them, so we don’t mix these different aircraft types, as we know that that creates a lot of inefficiencies.”