Swoop President throws cold water on expansion hopes

This is the second article of three examining Swoop’s first year of service

A Swoop Boeing 737-800 sits on the apron at Kelowna International Airport (photo: Brett Ballah).

While his airline celebrates one year of service this week, Swoop’s President Steven Greenway is downplaying the possibility of any expansions, meaning airports hoping to entice the ultra low-cost carrier to serve their city is out of luck.

Swoop serves a network of seven cities in Canada, but passengers in such big Canadian cities as Ottawa and Montreal have been left without ULCC service. Even rival Flair, which serves eight domestic destinations, has shied away from the nation’s capital and the province of Quebec.

“We’re keeping a reasonably tight lid on expansion in Canada,” said Swoop President Steven Greenway in an exclusive interview with Western Aviation News. “The issue that you have is not only is the population sparsely spread out, there’s very few population bases that can actually support the type of configuration aircraft that we have.”

With lower base fares, Swoop relies on filling more of its seats to turn a profit, then charge passengers for the extras, such as baggage and on-board services. It has a simple rationale why its plans for the coming year don’t include a massive expansion: survival.

“Growth on growth, when it’s unfettered and when it’s uneconomical, can destroy an airline rather quickly.”

Swoop celebrates its first anniversary June 20. In May, the airline flew its 1,000,000th passenger.

It has a stable of seven aircraft, with another three arriving before year’s end. Those planes will be used to reinforce the existing network, by adding frequencies and building in redundancy so aircraft can be maintained.

Even after the new planes arrive, don’t expect a host of new destinations.

“We’re only planning for 10 at the moment. We will obviously have a discussion with Westjet at some stage what that looks like beyond 10, but my commitment, and what I’ve done previously in terms of methodology is you tend to have a bit of a growth spurt which is what we’re going through in our first year and a half, two years, and then you really want to stabilize the business and become consistently profitable.

“We’ve just launched Kelowna (which gained Swoop and Flair service this summer) and London, Ontario, so that’s increased our stable of domestic destinations. But really what you’ll be seeing is southern flying from across the network, from our Canadian points of sale, down south.”

After putting up disappointing passenger numbers in the past winter, Swoop will concentrate in the coming winter on flying Canadians to sun destinations in Mexico and the Southern United States. But again, don’t expect new Canadian cities to be added to the roster.

“We don’t do connections. We don’t feed flights that go south. So those flights are essentially point-to-point they have to feed themselves out of the markets they operate. It’s more of a question of distribution.”

Distribution means getting Swoop flights offered as part of package deals, including hotels and transfers. Greenway says it’s a peculiarity of the Canadian market that people prefer to have all the details taken care of for them, rather than piece together holiday plans by booking flights, hotels, and tours on their own.

Greenway says there is also plenty of work to do getting the stuff of building an airline right. Developing a crew resource management system, for instance, to deploy employees to the right place at the right time.

“It’s the boring stuff because people, they love destinations and new planes, but if you don’t get the foundational stuff correct, you fall over.

“Playing it safe, after such a rapid expansion, we’re just going to reinforce the network we have, just have more frequencies on the routes that we serve,” said Greenway. “There’s nothing going to be new countries or a massive list of new destinations or anything like that, it’s really focussing on our core business.

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