South Tyrol, the mountainous northern border region of Italy that meets Austria and Switzerland, requires its own air service that reflects the area’s remote beauty, high quality of life and fine traditions. Here’s our fantasy Italian Alpine carrier.
It’s late spring, Friday morning, you’re resident in Stockholm (or London or Hamburg or Helsinki), and the forecast for the weekend shows little sign of the chill and lingering winter murk lifting. Do you put up with another weekend of low cloud and biting winds or do you plot an escape?
As you contemplate the generally nasty conditions, you decide your complexion could do with a few freckles, your wardrobe the odd top-up and you need some fine wine flowing through your veins. A bit of Greek sunshine would be nice but it won’t help for shopping. You could do Nice but reckon 5,500 people in your city are having the same thought at that very moment. You’ve been hearing a lot of good things about the fine hotels and outstanding wine of Südtirol (Alto Adige) and have always liked the sound of Bolzano – Alpine setting, German and Italian influences, palm trees, Forst beer and good independent shops.
A quick search reveals there is an aiport in Bolzano but the only flights are via Rome on Etihad’s new regional airline and suddenly things don’t seem so appealing. There’s an option to fly into Verona but then it’s two hours by car. There are also Innsbruck’s seasonal flights but they’re mostly oversold. Deciding the whole thing is too good to pass up you manage to secure the services of a Pilatus pc-12 with operator Jetfly and five hours later you’re cutting gentle arcs down the valley and Bolzano’s short-ish runway comes into view.
For the super-keen visitor living in more distant parts of Europe, chartering is about the only way to conveniently reach Italy’s answer to Shangri-La. The remoteness of this semi-autonomous region is part of its appeal and you have to make a proper pilgrimage. Nevertheless, a dedicated airline would do wonders for the region’s businesses and also boost tourism. While there have been attempts to run small carriers out of Bolzano in the past, they’ve largely been half-hearted attempts that have failed to fully embrace the best that the region’s orchards, fabric mills, vineyards and bakeries have to offer.
As we’ve yet to meet a bolt of green loden or bottle from Alois Lageder we didn’t like, we’ve crunched the numbers, developed a service model and commissioned Typeklang design agency from Bolzano to create Air Südtirol – an elegant, snappy airline that builds on the best of the region’s assets. With its fleet of Bombardier q400s for short jumps over the Alps and Bombardier CSeries for longer jaunts to London and up to Oslo, Air Südtirol not only brings in leisure traffic for the ski and summer seasons but also gets entrepreneurs out on the road across Europe and the world via its long-haul tie-ups with Swiss out of Zürich.
Across the following pages is our 12-point plan for a regional airline with a difference – superior service, serene interiors and very cold local beer for return flights home at the end of the day.
Bolzano airport is a tiny hub that does away with air bridges and allows passengers direct access to the tarmac from the larch-lined business-class lounge. Part of the carrier’s business plan calls for it to work with local producers and brands and as a result the café area is fitted out with chairs and tables by Plank and dairy products from Sterzing-Vipiteno.
For short flights the sturdy Bombardier Q400 shuttles passengers down to Rome for government meetings and over to Zürich to connect with the long-haul network of Swiss. The Q400s in the fleet also do special charters during the ski season.
Bombardier’s newest airliner is ideal for longer flights across Europe but also for low approaches over Bolzano. With its whisper-quiet engines it can sneak out to London at 06.30 without disturbing neighbours below and can silently approach late in the evening from Helsinki and Copenhagen.
The identity has been designed by Typeklang with overall creative direction from Monocle’s art department. The colour world for the brand has not only been inspired by the greenery of the region’s vegetation but also by the felt and loden used in regional dress and interiors. A graphic triangle shape in varying shades of green and grey represents both the mountains and the trees and is used as a pattern across the brand.
You won’t see Air Südtirol marketing via traditional channels such as TV, outdoor or even the web. The emphasis for the marketing and product team is bags, magazines, coasters, stickers and buttons that passengers are encouraged to take and spread the word as proper ambassadors. All over the world, Air Südtirol stickers are seen on Rimowa suitcases, tote bags are used on the beach in Liguria and coasters are pinned to bulletin boards in design agencies in Amsterdam.
Air Südtirol is a fully trilingual brand with all staff speaking German, Italian and English. All collateral is printed in the official languages and the morning papers arrive from Italy, Austria, Germany and Switzerland along with English-language dailies.
Taking its inspiration from Horizon Air on the US West Coast and Porter Airlines in Canada, Air Südtirol offers a brisk, premium-focused service aimed at business travellers and higher spending leisure traffic. During the week it connects the region’s big businesses and bureaucrats to key markets and at the weekends it brings people to their weekend houses and also to the spas and vineyards of Merano.
Despite the generally short routes flown by Air Südtirol, passengers will be offered slippers from Haunold in business class and special linen pillows filled with mountain herbs from local wellness brands. To keep the chill off there’ll be chunky loden cloth throws and inflight entertainment will feature the best jazz from the summer music festivals and short films from directors in the Alpine neighbourhood.
The catering concept is built around playing to local strengths and also supporting small farms and emerging brands where possible. For breakfast there’s the best speck, butter, cheese and rolls. For lunch and late afternoons, hearty sandwiches and soup are served alongside a bar trolley featuring assorted apple juices from Kohl, a rotating selection of wines and coffee from local roasters.
Air Südtirol’s crews will be the envy of other airlines with their Moessmer loden coats and blazers, crisp cotton shirts and flannel skirts and trousers. Capes will define the look during the winter season along with jaunty alpine hats. In summer, cool cotton suits and dresses in dark olive or grey will keep crews fresh on tarmacs in Naples.
Cabin interiors have been designed by a special subsidiary of Naturno-based Schweitzer (see page 170) and fabrics also come from Moessmer. Loden and felt have been used for upholstery throughout while deerskin covers all high-wear areas of the cabin environment.
Air Südtirol serves Europe’s major centres and the CSeries offers the potential for the carrier to stretch further afield. Domestic routes to Rome and Naples are important for government, business and student traffic while flights into London City, Berlin and Vienna are the cash cows for the carrier. The link up to Helsinki feeds into Finnair’s Asia network and helps boost Japanese, Thai and Korean traffic.