Long-haul a loser for SAS

photo courtesy SAS
Intercontinental (or 'long-haul') routes account for 12.7% of sales at Scandinavian Airlines, but account for almost a whopping 50% of their losses, according to a boarding.no article. The recent economic downturn, which has seen a slump in business travelers, has only made a bad situation worse for SAS. "Half of our most recent quarterly deficit of one billion Swedish kronor [comes] from our inter-continental business," said CEO Mats Jansson in a takeoff.dk article.

This is really serious - if the long-haul routes only account for less than 13% of sales but half of the losses, then something needs to be done. A couple of factors are at work here. One is that the planes that they're flying - the A330 and A340 - aren't flying full. SAS might consider upgrading its inflight service product (it really isn't anything special). Right now SAS offers a "low-cost" service for high prices; it should try to do the opposite. In other words, "we need to look at costs," as CEO Jansson said. That's difficult when Denmark, Norway and Sweden have some of the highest average wage rates in the world. Not to mention, SAS has a fleet that could be euphemistically labeled "diverse"; it needs to simplify. After all, how much sense does it make to fly the A321 next to the 737-800? (It should be pointed out that the MD-80 fleet will be gone by 2010.)

Another problem that Scandinavian faces is that there really isn't much originating and departing traffic at its main international hub in Copenhagen, which is similar to other European cities such as Madrid, Dublin, and Lisbon in that they're large enough to support non-stop service to a few international destinations, but not large enough to become a big international hub. London and Paris, on the other hand, have sufficient O&D traffic to ensure that they're successful international hubs. That said, SAS has the potential to transform Copenhagen into a relatively successful international hub. It might not be able to be anything on the scale of Lufthansa's Frankfurt or even KLM's Amsterdam, but it could promote Copenhagen as a less-congested way to connect from, say, North America to Asia. But a handful more of destinations from Copenhagen might be a good idea (right now Chicago, New York, Washington, Tokyo, Beijing, and Bangkok are the only long-haul routes flown from Copenhagen; Seattle is currently flown as well but will be dropped later this year).

And SAS should also consider flying a handful of international routes from Oslo, which it has neglected in terms of long-haul flights, and increase service from Stockholm (at present, only Chicago and Newark are served). They should probably be able to get enough traffic for some of these to justify point-to-point service.