Interview with Anko van der Werff, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)


The new chairman and CEO of the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) group, Anko van der Werff, said the carrier needs to achieve a lower cost structure to be able to withstand the new competition to come on its base. Stockholm Arlanda.

Stockholm competition

The Star Alliance member will face new rivals in one at its main hubs. In addition to announcing that Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair and Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings will open bases at Sweden’s largest airport, Finnair will also operate three Airbus A350s there on long-haul routes.

Van der Werff recently told me about his plan to protect the carrier in its home market. “This is our territory, this is our market, and what we need to do is prepare for success in this leisure space,” he said.

Anko van der Werff was appointed President and CEO of Scandinavian Airlines Systems (SAS) on April 28, 2021. In July, he succeeded Rickard Gustafson, who had led the airline for a decade.

Van der Werff gained experience as an Airline Director as CEO of Avianca (two years) and before that he spent five years at Aeromexico as Director of Revenue. Born in the Netherlands, van der Werff joined SAS not only in one of the most difficult times for aviation, but also in the year the airline celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Former CEO of Colombian flag bearer Avianca, van der Werff took the reins of SAS in June 2021.

The new CEO said SAS will continue to dominate the corporate market in Scandinavia. “We will remain, for anyone who wants to travel with us, the business airline of choice, but now we have to do a lot more,” he said. “I want to make sure that the airline, when we get out of [the pandemic], is able to compete in the field of leisure.

However, to achieve this goal, a structural change within SAS is needed to reduce unit costs. “What we’re doing is making sure that other business units are also competitive, able to compete. There is no other program than this, ”he said.

The CEO describes the short-haul market as a “cost game”, while long-haul operations are the “premium revenue game” via business class, providing connections and more. “Currently we cannot compete the way I want us to be,” he added.

Van der Werff is preparing SAS for LCC’s arrivals in Arlanda in the coming months. Ryanair will open a base at ARN during the 2021 winter season and launch domestic services in Sweden for the first time. The number of destinations offered by the Irish airline is expected to reach 24 by March 2022.

At the end of March, Eurowings will then establish a new base at ARN with five Airbus A320s. The German carrier plans to eventually offer flights from its Stockholm base to 20 destinations.

Meanwhile, Finnair is expanding its intercontinental presence at the airport. The Finnish flag carrier will launch services to the United States and Thailand from the end of October, operated by three of the A350s of the oneworld alliance members which have been deployed to Stockholm.

SAS is the multinational airline of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. “There is a lot of point-to-point traffic in every country,” van der Werff said. However, the scenario is different in Copenhagen Kastrup; which serves as an intercontinental SAS hub.

Multinational airline

SAS, a member of Star Alliance, is the national airline of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. As the head of the multinational carrier in a tough environment and fierce competition, van der Werff understands that innovation has been a natural part of SAS over all these years. But does a multinational carrier like SAS have a reason to exist in a new world of aviation? The states of Denmark and Sweden are shareholders while Norway was before.

“There are two ways to answer and it leads point by point to the same conclusion,” he said. By 1946, when the three governments had established the airline in several geographic areas, they were way ahead of their time. There is exactly one element, when you look at it now: Ryanair has several AOCs all over Europe, Air France-KLM has several AOCs, Lufthansa has several AOCs as well as the International Airline Group (IAG).

“Yes, it’s a challenge because there is always additional national interest, as you can see from the other airline groups. But that’s where it all happens and it’s the right decision, “added van der Werff.


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