Back in August last year, the French language newspaper Le Nouvelliste, reported that Swiss would start test flights direct from London Heathrow to Sion in Valais this February after Switzerland’s military stopped using the airport.
Over the weekend the first aircraft and its passengers made the first 1:50 minute flight. The aircraft, an Embraer 190 jet aircraft from Helvetic Airways AG, chartered by Swiss, arrived 10 minutes late at 15:40 on Saturday afternoon. Swiss flight chief, Joël Dubuis, said the flight was 80% full.
Swiss’s test includes flights every Saturday during the month of February.
In an interview with 20 Minutes, Marcelline Kuonen, head of Valais tourism, said that 7.9% of those staying in the region’s hotels come from the UK, making it the region’s second largest market for tourists.
Kuonen confirmed plans to add flights between other airports in the UK and Benelux next winter, but would not reveal more.
In the video, the importance Swiss often place on cantons, was lost on one British interviewee. When asked if he wanted to stay in Valais, he replied: “Yes. Well if Zermatt is Valais then we’re staying in Valais.”
Sion, the capital of Valais, with a population of around 33,000, lies at the heart of region’s wine industry, and around 25 km from Crans-Montana, 50 km from Verbier, and 75 km from Zermatt.
Sion airport is around an hour and a half closer to Crans-Montana and Zermatt and around one hour closer to Verbier, than Geneva airport. The trip from Sion airport to Crans-Montana is around 35 minutes, to Verbier it is about 50 minutes, and to Zermatt about an hour and a half.
Another airline promised regular winter flights for several years before abandoning it in 2012. In addition, Swiss flew this route around ten years ago before abandoning it for economic reasons.