Geneva Airport

Growth Opportunities

Philippe D. Monnier
Urheberrechte ©
Swiss International Air Lines Ltd.
Winter 2023-2024

After the pandemic, the Geneva Airport experienced a strong revival and resolidified its importance to Geneva International. While the current Managing Director anticipates minor growth, his successor could discover and develop new, unexpected opportunities.

Flying to over 142 destinations with 14 million passengers transiting each year, including some 5,000 heads of state and ministers, the Geneva Airport plays an unquestionably important role in the influence of Geneva International. Thanks to the reestablishment of its networks and connections, in addition to the post-pandemic boost in aerial traffic, this autonomous public establishment that employs 1,000 people boasted CHF 46.3 million in profits in 2022. And despite the ongoing climate emergency, people’s desire to travel seems stronger than ever.

Moderate growth in continental passenger traffic
In the past few decades, Geneva Airport has become accustomed to passenger traffic growing around 5% every year. Nevertheless, André Schneider, the current Managing Director, foresees future growth slowing to around 1% annually. The reasoning behind this anticipated slowdown is a saturation of continental routes, of which there are currently around 130. André Schneider also stresses that the airport in Geneva — in contrast to the airport in Zurich — can really only count on its local population, as it’s not considered an international flight hub. Schneider’s reduced growth estimations will likely have an effect on the establishment’s wage policies, which are currently (and delicately) under negotiation.

An ambition to increase intercontinental flights
André Schneider hopes to increase the number of intercontinental passenger routes, which are fairly marginal in quantity when compared to the number of continental flight options. On top of the current 12 international routes, the idea would be to add several direct connections to Asia, North America, and possibly sub-Saharan Africa. This would obviously put the airport in competition with all the other airports in Europe, including the Zurich Airport. However, the Geneva Airport boasts a very unique selling point that may help sway airlines in its favour: most of the intercontinental flight tickets that are purchased for flights into or out of Geneva are for first class or business class.

Latin America presents a more complex challenge as it highlights the importance of stimulating traffic in both directions. While there is confirmed interest in flights from Geneva to that part of the world, there is less enthusiasm and demand for flights traveling in the other direction, notably because of the economic hardships many Latin American countries are currently facing. And, in order to safeguard airline companies’ reputations, in addition to the Geneva Airport’s reputation, it’s essential that any newly introduced routes remain active for a minimum of one year.

Highly specific competition
The Geneva Airport is also close to other airports, notably the airport in Lyon, so the destinations proposed out of Geneva need to be — and are — different enough to avoid any direct competition. The real competition is for the Swiss residents that live in Fribourg and Bern, as they live equal distances from both the Geneva Airport and the Zurich airport.

Given the climate crisis, the train could theoretically replace certain flight paths, however travel by train takes considerably longer — especially if there are no direct connections — and the cost of tickets tends to be higher. As a result, only train travel from Geneva to Paris or to Zurich is truly competing with flights.

Navigating political and administrative complexities
André Schneider will be retiring in 2024, and his successor will ideally need to be well versed in two very specific domains. Firstly, the future Managing Director will need to know how to navigate a remarkably complex, highly regulated, and very politically charged organization. Given that the Geneva Airport is an autonomous public institution, the legislation and governance that’s involved is complicated, in addition to influences coming from outside parties (neighbours and environmentalists have proven to be remarkably good at launching successful grassroots initiatives).

Future (unexpected) possibilitiesfor development
To breathe new life into the situation, the future Managing Director will also — and perhaps above all — need to be a seasoned business veteran, capable of providing very strong guidance regarding the airport’s development and growth. There are multiple opportunities that could still be explored, for example: an expansion of VIP and non-airport services, attracting a higher percentage of well-heeled, more profitable clients; creating a mini aerial hub for certain intercontinental routes; increasing competition with the airport in Lyon by offering similar routes; or even by focusing on developing business aviation, like the city of Nice did.

And, of course, as in any large enterprise (yes, even ones that are operated by the government), there’s always the option to fundamentally reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies, which usually means completely revamping existing processes. Whichever path they choose to explore, the road ahead offers many challenges — and many opportunities — for the next Managing Director of the Geneva Airport.