Undoubtably 2020 was the worst year in aviation since World War II. We have never seen an industrial downturn to this extent and it will take a long time for our industry to recover and reach pre-COVID volumes and results.
However, crises create opportunities, and we at Travel in Motion GmbH (TiM) are proud that we were able to support an airline in mastering the challenges.
Helvetic Airways is a Swiss-based regional carrier founded in 2003. Since the current owner Martin Ebner took over the airline, three years on Helvetic has become a Swiss success story. The airline has grown to 16 Embraer aircraft, with a clear strategy to mainly operate the latest E190-E2 model. This will provide Helvetic with one of Europe’s most eco-friendly and modern fleets. The airline’s business model is based on three pillars:
- ACMI and wet-lease operations mainly for Swiss International Air Lines, with the ambition to grow in this business segment and become one of the leading ACMI/wet-lease providers in Europe
- A very successful (ad hoc) charter business with a strong focus on major European sports clubs
- Own scheduled flights, under Helvetic’s 2L IATA code. Although their scheduled network has not been extensive in the past, with the performance of the new E190-E2 aircraft, Helvetic can now establish a unique and flexible network, differentiating itself from its competitors.
As scheduled operations may become increasingly important for Helvetic Airways, the team soon realised that the simplistic self-built inhouse PSS was not flexible enough to accelerate this part of the business. Helvetic set up a team, led by Chief Technology Officer Christian Suhner and supported by the Head of PSS, Patrick Brunner. Their aim was to find one of the most innovative, user-friendly and easy to operate PSS systems for their type of airline and route network, with the flexibility to integrate with other components and to extract their own data for analytical purposes. To achieve this, they engaged with TiM to run a PSS replacement project covering all the necessary steps, from summarising Helvetic’s business requirements, running a tender, facilitating vendor sessions, supporting the choice of the final supplier and finalising the vendor contracts.
One key business criterion was the need to be able to seamlessly scale scheduled operations up or down, depending on performance of Helvetic’s ACMI and charter business. In addition, as one of the most modern and technology-driven airlines, Helvetic has the highest requirements for quality and – of course – safety, a philosophy which is summarised well in the airline’s motto: “Swiss quality all along the line”. This has been reflected directly in the selection of the new system, especially in the way Helvetic plans to sell their products: no dependency on legacy aggregation and distribution but being able to distribute directly, connect to new-generation aggregators, being accessible for tour operators, while remaining in control of the offer and order process. In other words, distribution based fully on their direct channels complemented by NDC and direct API connectivity to other distributors and retailers. Rarely does a regional airline have such a clear vision on where they are heading.
|“After the successful evaluation phase with the great support of TiM, we’re currently in the phase of implementing our new PSS platform,” confirms Christian Suhner, Chief Technical Officer of Helvetic Airways. “One that will help us further enhance our product offer, and will also enable us to respond more effectively to market developments. With all this going on in IT terms, plus the continuing renewal of our aircraft fleet, the Helvetic Airways transformations are truly well under way”, he adds.
Of course, this has not been the first time TiM has successfully delivered such a project, but it was still a very special exercise. Due to the pandemic, only remote interaction was possible with the vendor community. The Helvetic and TiM teams could still physically meet, albeit with social distancing in place, occupying large meeting rooms while sitting in opposite corners. Using TiM’s toolset for understanding and defining the airline’s specific requirements, the tender documents were created. Then, using TiM’s standard model, the tender process was executed. Jointly with the customer, the the responses were analysed and evaluated based on predefined criteria and weights – fundamental for a successful and fair selection. However, despite the pandemic, such an evaluation still requires close interaction with the various vendors – a pure paper-based evaluation was not sufficient to replace meetings with vendors. As the Helvetic team had not run a PSS procurement process before, evaluating soft in the factors decision-making process was a challenge, especially as many of the vendors ranked relatively equal in the formal evaluation. Thus, the final personal touch, the trust built up through interactions in joint workshops or getting to know one another in face-to-face contract negotiations were missing.
To compensate for this as best as possible, the Helvetic and TiM evaluation teams became MS Teams power users. All vendor sessions were conducted remotely with hours of product demonstrations, reviews, discussions, and negotiations carried out in front of screens and speakers. As the TiM team already knew the various vendors, it was possible to bridge the gap of real face-to-face interaction, however the job still feels somewhat incomplete from a personal interaction perspective.
Helvetic Airways has now completed the process and chosen a new provider for their PSS which supports the uniqueness of the airline. While the project has ended as a success, we think it is safe to say that while remote interaction is possible, it does not replace the need to meet in person, especially if deciding on which system the commercial future of an airline will be based upon. This is just one more reason why the whole team at TiM is looking forward to the re-opening of our industry, allowing us to travel and meet in person again.