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Photo: Jonas Malmström

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People of SAS: Aron Backström – The spider in the network

The world really is Aron Backström’s oyster, as he plots the SAS network together with his team.

As Head of Network for southern Europe and intercontinental flights at SAS, Aron Backström has a critical role in helping shape the airline. “At Network, we decide where we should fly, when we should fly there and which aircraft we should use,” he explains. 

The team of about 25 people at Network, all of whom are based at the SAS Stockholm headquarters, is highly international, coming from Spain, France, Colombia and, of course, all of Scandi-navia. International experience and fresh ideas are key in this department, he says. There’s a lot that goes into working out the ideal route map and schedules, and the airline prides itself on being especially agile at adapting to seasonality, according to economist Backström.

“That’s one of our strengths at SAS, we’re good at adjusting our traffic program. We do that to adapt to the different seasons and to meet both business and leisure demand at any given time,” he says. The latest trend the team is addressing, for example, is adapting the network in an even more refined way to cater to “micro-seasons.”

“Right now we’re just getting into golf travel – golf players like to play from late February through May, so we’re adding several flights during that time – to Faro in Portugal or a route we just launched to Seville – that we don’t fly in the summer peak season, when we’ll switch to the more traditional vacation spots.”

getting that mix right takes a lot of work and serious know-how. Backström and his team study historical data, analyze upcoming travel trends and destinations on the rise, and have to keep up with the latest advances in technology to develop a successful network. One example, which he talks about enthusiastically, is the imminent arrival of the new Airbus A321LR (long range), which will allow for a new type of route to be served.
“The Long Range project has really got me going,” Backström says. “We’ve been working on it for about two years, understanding the cost side of things, the operations and what you can build onto it.”

‘You get the best of the commercial and operational worlds’

“It’s a super-attractive asset for SAS, since we operate from Scandinavia and our widebody planes have 250 or 300 seats, which, on some routes, are too many. In addition to our ambition to be as sustainable as possible, it’s one of our core tasks to optimize seats and passengers. The A321LR reaches northeastern US, Canada and India, and has around 160 seats. So, especially outside our main hub in Copenhagen, it opens up some very exciting opportunities.”

When he tells people about his job, Backström says almost everyone asks the same question. “Why don’t you fly to Hawaii?” He laughs. “It’s the top search on our intranet, the first topic of conversation when you meet people.” 

But surely there are plenty of closer alternatives to Hawaii for those living in Europe? “Hawaii is Hawaii. For Scandinavians it’s a big thing,” Backström says. For the record, despite the widespread interest, he makes it clear that a Honolulu flight isn’t currently in the cards.

Backström and his team play an important role in sustainability as well, albeit in a way many passengers may not even realize. 
“One of the worst things you can do for fuel consumption is run late, because if you’re planning with a too-short time buffer, the pilots are going to have to fly faster and burn more fuel to make up for lost time,” Backström explains. “So our job is to keep planning realistic and feasible, to make sure we have the time we need and we’re not running late, so we can travel at the most environmentally friendly speeds.”

Backström says he loves his job because it’s multifaceted and that he gets to be involved in so much of what makes the airline tick. “It’s the perfect mix of the commercial, understanding the customer and making deals, and, on the other hand, you’re so connected to our operations,” he says. “So you get the best of the commercial and operational worlds, and it’s just great.” 

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