Nestled in the northernmost corner of the Italian Alps, the mainly German-speaking province of South Tyrol (the area once belonged to Austria) enjoys special autonomy in its dealings with Rome. Able to keep most of the taxes it collects to spend on local needs, the region’s half a million residents have a higher standard of living than most in the Bel Paese.
The area also benefits economically from year-round tourism, with 5.5 million holidaymakers annually visiting its ski slopes, mountain inns and wineries. Those vacationers fortunate to arrive by air in Bolzano, its well-heeled provincial capital, fly on airA!ps.
While the regional carrier is an expression of the area’s independence – the nearest alternative is Verona airport to the south – initial flights in 1999 were operated in conjunction with a major flagship carrier. Its aircraft, the roomy and rarely seen Dornier 328-110 turboprop, flew under the KLM Alps brand and used the Dutch carrier’s light blue livery – early routes included Amsterdam-Innsbruck.
Two years later, South Tyrolean businessmen acquired a majority stake and renamed it airA!ps, painting the planes white with a “discover the sky” tagline on the fuselage.
Soon routes rarely seen on timetables appeared (Bern-Rome, Linz-Zürich) in the hope of attracting new customers. After a bumpy financial ride in its attempt to ferry travellers to little-trafficked airports in the mountains, the ambitious carrier scaled back its fleet of nine planes in 2005.
Today, it operates as a subsidiary of Austria’s Welcome Aviation Group and its trio of aircraft concentrates on shuttling passengers to and from Bolzano and Parma to Rome as well as summer flights to Sardinia and VIP charters – Italian football clubs use the airline to fly players to pre-season training camps in the Alps.
The fleet is made up of three 31-seat Dornier 328-110s turboprops.
The carrier’s Tyrolean stewardesses wear a smart three-piece navy skirt suit accessorised with ice-grey pillbox hat.
Autograph requests are not uncommon since royalty, film stars and World Cup skiers are regulars aboard.
In-flight entertainment is limited but travellers can scan a copy of the German-language daily, Dolomiten.
airA!ps’ parent company, Welcome Aviation Group, also owns Tyrol Air Ambulance, a medical airlift service flying Citations, Dorniers and Gulfstreams. Its fleet are able to repatriate patients recovering from a nasty accident on the slopes.