TAMPA — It has been two years and one month since Edelweiss Air started nonstop flights from Zurich to Tampa International Airport and back. It was Tampa's first direct flight to continental Europe in 15 years.
So how have things been going for Edelweiss in Tampa so far?
"Satisfactory," said a grinning Michael Trestl, the airline's director of strategy and network development, after a Tuesday evening news conference at TIA.
The airline said that its planes — Edelweiss flies Airbus 330-300s into TIA that seat up to 315 — have been more than 80 percent booked. More than 75,000 passengers have used the flight to travel between Switzerland and the Tampa Bay region, according to Edelweiss.
The route has been so successful for Edelweiss that in March the airline quietly bumped service from once a week to twice, ahead of the usual summer bump to two flights weekly. Flight are Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Edelweiss executives were at TIA to promote the airline's new business-class "lie flat" seats: bigger, roomier seats that extend so that business-class passengers can sleep during the 10-plus hour flight. More significantly, airline executives reaffirmed their commitment to the Tampa Bay area even though the airport incentive program that helped lure Edelweiss to TIA recently expired. That allayed concern that the route could have gone back to Orlando International.
In 2012, TIA lured Edelweiss from Orlando when the airport and its community partners in the local chambers of commerce and tourism agencies offered Edelweiss $464,000 in cash, marketing help and waived airport fees. But under federal rules TIA will no longer be able to offer incentives..
Edelweiss chief commercial officer Alain Chisari said the airline has nearly doubled its passenger numbers in the last five years to 1.1 million passengers in 2013 and wants to keep growing. That's why the airline is committed to Tampa Bay for the long term, he said.
"We are a strategic company," Chisari said. "We don't make six-month plans. We want to stay and grow."
Edelweiss executives said the airline intends to stay at TIA — barring economic and other shocks that roil the airline industry — as part of its strategic plan through 2020.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected]