On February 14 1975 Moritz Suter and his youth time buddy Peter Kalt found the “Business Flyers Basel AG” with a capital of 65000 Swiss Francs. They buy a two engined Cessna320 and a single engined Piper L-4 (manufactured in 1943!) with two seats.
In 1976 the capital will be raised to 165000 Swiss Francs and a third aircraft is joining the fleet. Since the markets in Switzerland and Europe are regulated, the company is not able to perform scheduled flights and therefore is limited to air taxi services. Together with his wife, Moritz Suter is writing a 100 paged operations manual. At the same time Moritz Suter is still a captain on Swissair’s DC-9 aircraft.
With the background of market deregulation in the United States and the raise of commuter airlines, Moritz Suter begins to develop a plan for an Europe wide operating Swiss regional airline. In a further step he is presenting his plan to the Swissair management which was interested in taking a stake of 40% of the company.
In 1978, the company starts to recruit its first employees, the company name is changed into Crossair AG. The capital has raised to 1 million Swiss Francs in the meantime. In the same year, Crossair applies for traffic rights from Zurich to Lyon, Luxemburg, Nuremberg, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt and Lugano and signs options for 4 Swearingen Metroliner II.
Shortly before the start of operations, Swissair suddenly denies its cooperation and is not taking the 40% stake in the company. But Moritz Suter has already crossed the point of no return.
In 1979 the federal office for air traffic allows Crossair to operate scheduled flights from Zurich to Nuremberg, Innsbruck and Klagenfurt. Crossair’s capital is now at 4 million Swiss Francs.
In 1980 Crossair is allowed to operate flights from Zurich to Hannover and Düsseldorf as well as from Bern to Paris and from Zurich and Geneva to Turin. The company orders 4 Metroliner III. In October 1980 Crossair orders 10 33-seated Saab340 “Cityliner”. Now Swissair realises that Crossair becomes a second strong airline in Switzerland and therefore begins to act nervously.
1981: Crossair’s third year of operation. The company already transports more than 100000 passengers, twice as much as in the previous year. Zurich and Geneva get linked with Lugano, new flights operate between Zurich and Hannover, Rotterdam and Maastricht. The company’s capital is now 16 million Swiss Francs.
On December 31, Swissair applies for various traffic rights on the routes that are served by Crossair. According to Swiss law, Swissair enjoys a monopoly – of course this behaviour was an attempt to bring Crossair into danger. Swissair did not even have the aircraft to operate the lines (and therefore gave it to German carrier DLT!) and Crossair’s existence was in danger.
This behaviour had strong responses in Switzerland. Customers and media were standing behind the young and dynamic Crossair. The whole issue became political and it was decided that, while Swissair indeed gets the traffic rights, Crossair is allowed to operate flights from Basel-Mulhouse instead. This was an excellent move for the Basel region since Swissair was just dropping most of the Basel flights at this time.
In 1982, Crossair for the first time in history offered scheduled flights from Basel to Brussels, Geneva, Munich, Vienna and Zurich. After Swissair has dropped the flights from Basel to Paris and Frankfurt, Crossair took over these flights. It became clear that Crossair’s product, operating with small aircraft and with a good schedule, was a success.
In the following time, the airline constantly improved its network from all Swiss airports.
In 1983, Crossair opens it’s maintenance base in Basel.
In 1985, the company had a capital of 60 million Swiss Francs. At the same time, the airline was opening it’s own catering facilities in Basel.
In 1986, Crossair became a cargo airline too after signing a deal with DHL. Crossair therefore introduces night cargo flights from Basel to Brussels.
On May 5 1986, for the first time in Swiss history, a flight was operated with an all female crew on the route Basel to Munich.
In the same year, Crossair made an important contract with Swissair which guaranteed Crossair’s existing network. Even further, Crossair was allowed to operate all flights operated with up to 40 seated aircraft in the Swissair group.
1987: Crossair sells it’s last Metroliner and orders 3 additional Saab340. Total Saab340 fleet size at this moment: 16.
1988: The company grows and grows. In May Crossair orders 10 additional Saab340. In October, the company orders 5 additional Saab340. And in the same year, Crossair and Saab announce to build a new turboprop aircraft: the Saab2000 Concordino!
1989: Crossair begins to build it’s own headquarter in Basel (today’s SWISS headquarter). Swissair and Crossair intensify it’s wet-lease agreements. Crossair buys 5 Fokker50 and orders 25 Saab2000 aircraft as well as 4 Avro RJ85 Jumbolino. Crossair’s capital at this time: 215 million Swiss Francs. First time in history, Crossair has a financial loss of 6.7 million Swiss Francs while the whole aviation industry is in a crisis.
1991: Swissair takes over the majority of Crossair. In Basel, the airline opens it’s conference and training center with various simulators.
1993: Crossair has profits of 24.1 million Swiss Francs. Swissair is buying more Crossair stocks and now owns 56.1% of Crossair. For the first time, Crossair generates connecting passengers in Basel.
1994: Crossair has a profit of 16.1 million Swiss Francs and introduces a new engine maintenance facility in Basel. The first Saab2000 was introduced into service. At the end of the year, Crossair’s fleet consists out of 36 aircraft.
1995: The Swissair group decides to give all flights up to hundred seats to Crossair. Crossair orders 12 Avro RJ100. Crossair’s capital was 328.5 million Swiss Francs at this moment. In the same year, Crossair took over the medium-range business of Balair/CTA. Therefore, several MD82/83 joined the Crossair fleet and shall be the largest aircraft ever operated by Crossair. Crossair has profits of 17.4 million Swiss Francs. At the end of 1995, Crossair employed 1068 persons in Basel alone and had a fleet of 65 aircraft.
Since 1995, Crossair builds up it’s EuroCross platform in Basel, a new hub system with extremely short connection times (20 minutes). Soon passengers begin to realize that flying via Basel is faster than flying via one of the large hubs.
Even more, Crossair’s service on the ground as well as in the air is beating all other European carriers. I quote the Airways magazine July 1999:
“For the passenger used to equating commuter airlines to bush-pilot operations, Crossair becomes a near-religious experience. Every aircraft- even the 33-passenger Saab340- is outfitted with wide leather seats and a full galley. On the hop from Zurich to Basel, smiling flight attendants pass through the cabin with newspapers, then gourmet Swiss chocolates, then a choice of champagne or freshly squeezed orange juice, and finally, cold towels- on a 15-minute flight!”
1996-1999: The EuroCross system grows and so do profits of the company. 23 million Swiss Francs in 1996, 43.1 million Swiss Francs in 1997, 63.5 million Swiss Francs in 1998 and 50.7 million Swiss Francs in 1999. At the end of 1999, Crossair operates a total of 79 aircraft and transports nearly 5 million passengers. However, the company needs to publish a financial loss of 28 million Swiss Francs in 2000. In the same year, on January 10, a Saab340 aircraft crashes shortly after take-off in Zurich on it’s way to Dresden. 10 people die in this tragic accident. On November 24 2001, another Crossair aircraft, an Avro RJ100 on it’s way from Berlin to Zurich, crashed during approach, causing 24 casualties. In the meantime, Swissair group went bankrupt.
In a further step, the succesfull Crossair board of directors needed to leave after Mr. Gut (one of the main responsibles for Swissair’s hunter strategy- and the following bankruptcy of the whole group) took over the majority of Crossair together with several Swiss banks and governments. The new formed company Swiss took over large parts of bankrupt Swissair. In a further step, most Crossair managers and staff got laid off. The EuroCross hub in Basel got closed as well as most of the flights from Bern, Lugano, Sion and Geneva. Today, Swiss concentrates on a worldwide hub in Zurich. After ongoing losses of the company, Swiss got sold to German carrier Lufthansa in 2005.
In the meantime, Moritz Suter has founded another Swiss airline. With a fleet of several MD-90 aircraft, HELLO is operating charter flights for tour operators and does sub-leases for several airlines. HELLO was able to generate profits since the first year of operations.
“Vom Sternenfeld zum EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg” by Peter F. Peyer published by Christoph Merian Verlag in 1996. And various others…