APEX Insight: With PowdAir, an airline targeting skiers and snowboarders, set to begin selling tickets in late March, APEX Media explores the growth potential of the winter snow sports market.
In Europe, two things happen during the month of February: schools across the continent break for mid-term holidays and Alpine ski slopes suddenly become a lot more congested. In what is otherwise a relatively quiet time of year for air travel, some European airlines are busy flying winter sports enthusiasts on routes to and from airports close to the Alps.
Swiss International Air Lines markets itself as “the skier’s airline.” This isn’t surprising for the flag carrier of a nation defined by its mountains, but SWISS lives up to the slogan in more tangible way. The airline offers free ski and snowboard equipment carriage, in addition to the standard baggage allowance, for all fares, excluding Economy Light. On its website, the airline says it wants customers to think of it as “a really comfortable ski lift. With drinks, food and friendly service.” SWISS isn’t the only European carrier that offers complimentary checked winter sports equipment. Turkish Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Alitalia, Air France and airberlin also waive equipment fees for skiers and snowboarders.
Another airline with plans to launch in December is going slightly off-piste by targeting the winter snow sports market exclusively. Using a 109-seat Fokker 100 aircraft, PowdAir announced last week that it will offer flights from six UK airports, as well as Rotterdam and Brussels, to Sion in the heart of the Swiss Alps. The airport’s runway is less than two miles from the nearest ski lift at Veysonnaz, but more importantly it’s within a 45-minute drive from internationally renowned ski resorts including Verbier, Crans-Montana and Zermatt.
“But, the future of our destination is by air — that is where the growth potential is.” – Serge Larivière, Mont-Tremblant International Airport
Across the pond, Toronto-based regional carrier Porter Airlines has carved out a similar niche by connecting passengers with some of the top ski resorts on North America’s east coast. The airline offers non-stop flights from Toronto Billy Bishop Airport to Mont-Tremblant in Quebec’s Laurentian mountains, with the option to purchase ski lift tickets in advance. In 2015, Porter Airlines and Air Canada made around 300 scheduled commercial landings from Toronto to Mont-Tremblant International Airport (MTIA), which consists of a single runway and a rustic log cabin passenger terminal. Porter’s other destinations that are within driving distance of various ski hills include Quebec City and Burlington, Vermont.
But how much growth potential is there in flying skiers from the gate at the airport to the gates on the hill? Serge Larivière, founder and president of MTIA, is optimistic. In January 2016, he told the Montreal Gazette that he expects a lot more growth from the private aviation sector. “Tremblant has a steady clientele coming by car,” said Larivière. “But, the future of our destination is by air — that is where the growth potential is.”