SAS: In it for the long-haul

SAS’s long-haul network was going into 2020 on a high note. In this interview, we learn how SAS adapted to this year’s sudden changes in passenger and cargo demand, and why there’s reason to be optimistic for 2021.

SAS long haul
PUBLISHED: 17/12/2020

Going into 2020, SAS had a healthy long-haul business with Copenhagen Airport as its primary hub. SAS operated more than 10 daily long-haul routes to Asia and the US and had 16 long-haul aircraft, including new A350s, and with more A350s and 3 A321LR narrow bodies on order with deliveries to commence soon, in order to expand the route network and capacity.

But then come early January, SAS was forced to suspend flights to Shanghai and Beijing. As Head of International Network Eirik Wæraas explains: “At the beginning, it looked like the coronavirus could just be limited to China. But by March, the US government had closed its borders. The situation developed rapidly, and by late March, SAS decided to suspend 98% of flights.”

2020: The year of the ‘preighter’

“As everything was shutting down in late March, we flew our first pax-freighter, or ‘preighter’,” says Christian Snabe, Director of Network Optmization at SAS Cargo. “By late June, we had around 50 cargo-only flights, with many cabin-loaded flights to make the best use of the available weight and volume. This was primarily for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on our routes from Shanghai or Beijing. In total, we have flown over 40 million protective masks for Scandinavian healthcare workers.”

Cargo also drove the business case for reopening long-haul passenger flights to the US. “In a close cooperation between CPH and SAS, we were able to reintroduce flights to New York, Chicago and San Francisco by July, adding Washington DC and more capacity to NYC by autumn,” says Eirik. “Passenger demand has been 10-15% of the usual level, which we were able to sustain into winter. Now coming into December, we are supported by a strong market for cargo.”

“As opposed to the Global Financial Crisis, the economy has not been affected in the same way by this crisis. So passenger demand was down, but the demand for goods like fresh fish and pharma was there – even higher than the supply,” Christian adds. “We are committed to keeping important freight corridors open, and supporting the demand for passenger flights with our belly cargo.”

2021: Reasons to be optimistic

“We believe there is the potential to reintroduce more routes and add capacity to existing routes as we come into spring 2021. And the news about vaccines is promising for a good summer. We remain confident and hopeful that demand will come back. Our strategy remains intact and we look forward to leading a competitive international network from CPH. We have a strong, mutual relationship, where CPH relies on our input as their largest customer and CPH can support us with insights from Denmark.”

“We are staying on top of the news for the development of a vaccine,” comments Christian. “SAS and its partners Spirit at CPH Airport are both IATA CEIV certified. We would very much like to be able to contribute to vaccine distribution and continue to help in the crisis as we have with PPE.”

Morten Poulsen

Senior Manager, Business Development, SAS, Domestic & Americas
+45 5376 3104