Air Dolomiti’s identity as an Italian carrier is very strong, according to Kraus. All its 550 employees other than Kraus himself are Italian and Air Dolomiti regards its Italian identity as its greatest selling point.
The airline obtained an ISO 9001 quality classification from classification society Det Norske Veritas in 2000 and it has consistently sought to maintain a high quality of overall service, all of it Italian-flavored, Kraus said.
Air Dolomiti has a strong punctuality and reliability record – greater than 90 per cent at its Munich hub for the former and “about 100 per cent” at Munich for the latter, according to Kraus.
This performance is helped by the fact that its fleet is very young: the average age of the aircraft in Air Dolomiti’s fleet is just 2.9 years. It became the first airline in Italy to order the Embraer 195 when it placed its order in 2009.
To try to ensure its customer-service standards remain high – and thoroughly Italian-themed – in step with its reputation for punctuality and reliability, Air Dolomiti has trademarked its in-flight service as ‘Settimocielo by Air Dolomiti’: Seventh Heaven by Air Dolomiti.
“This is the difference we can create with other, bigger companies – we can stay Italian,” said Kraus. “I tell our employees, ‘Don’t talk about getting international and don’t even think about getting global’.”
The airline boasts of its close relationships with leading Italian winemakers and chefs and uses their products for its in-flight service. The uniforms for its flight attendants – all of whom are women at present – are designed by Italian designers and it plays only Italian music through the PA systems on board its aircraft.
Celebrating one of Italy’s greatest cultural gifts to the world, every one of Air Dolomiti’s 10 Embraer 195s is named after an Italian composer or an opera by an Italian composer.
So keen is Air Dolomiti to promote its Italian identity that it has turned the area round the gates in Munich Airport’s Terminal 2 from which it operates into a special ‘Spazio Italia’.
Here, said Kraus, Air Dolomiti’s passengers either can buy Italian-style coffees and Italian wines at the airline’s own café/wine bar or browse in a 120-square meter (1,290-square-foot) adjacent “multi-function area” set aside to promote the products and service offerings of Italian companies.
This concept has proved so successful that Air Dolomiti is able to self-finance the rental and upkeep costs of the Italian promotional area with the profits made by the café/wine bar, according to Kraus.
Another measure of the Spazio Italia’s success, he said, was that within two years of Air Dolomiti opening the new area, rival carrier Alitalia had begun exploring ways to adopt a similar concept for its own areas at some airports.
Air Dolomiti also uses the term ‘Spazio Italia’ as the title of its in-flight magazine. Every issue of the magazine features ‘Made in Italy’ sections devoted to food and wine, culture, health, leisure, travel and fashion, all from the Italian perspective.
By the end of 2013, Air Dolomiti was operating 380 flights a week, almost all of which were to or from Munich. It carried 1.7 million passengers during the year and was Munich Airport’s third-largest carrier in terms of passengers and flights and the top international – that is, non-German – carrier at the airport. The top two carriers are Lufthansa and Airberlin.
According to Kraus, approximately 70 to 75 per cent of Air Dolomiti’s passengers are flying on connecting flights via Munich or Frankfurt. About 50 to 55 per cent of these passengers are Italian and about 20 to 25 per cent German.
The number of U.S. passengers it carries on connecting flights has jumped sharply from 4 per cent to 8 per cent in the past couple of years as U.S. citizens and residents – particularly those living on the U.S. West Coast – have become much more aware of Air Dolomiti’s strong network of Italian destinations offered via Munich. The airline is also seeing growth in the numbers of Russian and Chinese passengers it is carrying, Kraus said.
Air Dolomiti’s major business goal is generally to grow its network of Italian destinations offered via Munich, mainly to expand its Lufthansa feed activities but also to strengthen its own-brand flying. Not only does Air Dolomiti want to confirm its recognition as what Kraus called the “reference” Italian carrier within the Lufthansa Group, but it also wants to reinforce its position as the top international airline at Munich.
At the same time, said Kraus, Air Dolomiti wants to strengthen its relationships with other Star Alliance carriers – hence the three codeshares it is now planning.
One potentially quick way to add more Star Alliance codeshares would be for Air Dolomiti to grow by feeding the hubs of the other long-haul carriers in the Lufthansa Group: Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines.
Asked if Air Dolomiti had any interest or plans in doing so, Kraus said that in order to do so Air Dolomiti would have to convince the Lufthansa Group supervisory board that it would genuinely add value to the group by expanding its network in such ways.
One immediate problem, he said, is that, not taking Lufthansa into account, all three long-haul carriers in the group have aircraft types in their fleet which are equivalent in capacity to the Embraer 195 – so potentially they could operate any new routes between Italy and their hubs just as easily as could Air Dolomiti. However, all things being equal, Air Dolomiti would welcome the possibility of feeding these other carriers’ hubs too, Kraus said.
The Italian airline has one other, noteworthy, weapon in its business arsenal. Drawing heavily upon its reputation for punctuality and reliability, Air Dolomiti makes it aircraft available where possible for whole-plane charters, particularly for sports teams such as major Italian professional soccer clubs playing in Europe-wide competitions.
Such group customers need to be in specific places at very specific times and using an airline which isn’t punctual isn’t an option for them, Kraus noted. Air Dolomiti’s performance in operating such charters to the satisfaction of its clients has newly won the carrier a national award as Italy’s top airline for private charters.