Swiss regional carrier Helvetic Airways has taken delivery of its first Embraer E190 E2, starting a period of significant growth for the niche airline.

Helvetic has a firm order in place for 12 of the aircraft and options for another 12. The airline plans to operate four E2s by early next year and will return three of 10 E190 E1s in the upcoming months. But with more E2s arriving in the spring, Helvetic will build its fleet to 16 aircraft in the summer of 2020 and operate a mix of E1s and E2s for the foreseeable future.

The airline plans to operate its first E2 commercial flight Nov. 1 from Zurich to Bremen.

The privately owned carrier, established 15 years ago by Swiss entrepreneur, operates a mixed business model made up of charters, some scheduled routes and wet-lease flying. Helvetic has been winding down its own scheduled routes recently to free up resources for the fleet transition—the airline retired its last Fokker 100 earlier this year.

Recently, Helvetic has benefitted from the changed fleet composition of Swiss International Airlines (SWISS): The Airbus A220-100 is now the carrier’s smallest aircraft, leaving it dependent on wet-leases for routes that do not sustain a 120-seater, or for off-peak flying on trunk routes. SWISS has been wet leasing eight Helvetic aircraft, but that is now increasing to 10. In addition, two of Helvetic’s aircraft are currently based in Munich flying on behalf of Lufthansa.

Helvetic CEO Tobias Pogorevc said both the charter and wet-lease business will continue to grow. Helvetic does not plan to open bases at Switzerland’s two other main airports, Basel and Geneva. However, the airline is looking at opportunities in both Germany and France. Pogorevc has studied operating to Lugano, which has traditionally been challenging for operators because of its short runway and the high terrain near the airport. However, weight restrictions for both the E1 and E2 would be so substantial that the services would not be economical and Helvetic has no plans to introduce smaller aircraft geared toward smaller markets.

Pogorevc said he has been in close contact with Norwegian regional carrier Wideroe, the E190 E2 launch operator, about operational experiences. Quality of cabin finishing, an issue of some criticism for the early Wideroe deliveries, has much improved, Pogorevc pointed out: “It is much better, but not yet perfect.”

Helvetic is the fourth airline to introduce the E2, following Wideroe, Air Astana and Azul Brazilian Airlines.

Jens Flottau, jens.flottau@aviationweek.com