The small Swiss charter airline Hello, the latest endeavour of entrepreneur Moritz Suter, has stopped all flights out of Basel and Zurich due to bankruptcy. Suter was also behind the restructured Crossair airline.
The Hello grounding, affecting up to 3,000 stranded passengers and 140 employees in Switzerland, stems from the loss of several clients, including the German travel agency TUI. TUI ended its relationship with Hello largely because of the high cost of the Swiss franc and plans to expand its own charter airline out of Basel in the coming summer.
Hello’s imperiled financial situation was also exacerbated by bad accounting on the part of an ex-chief financial officer.
“All the business figures supplied to the board and the management on a weekly and monthly basis turned out to have been incorrect. Therefore, management and board were convinced that there was sufficient funding available. However, this was not the case,” the airline’s website reads.
Suter started Hello in 2004 following the restructuring of the European regional airline Crossair, which he also founded. Crossair was restructured in 2001 to become the basis of the new national carrier, Swiss International Air Lines, after the former national carrier Swissair went under. Suter was removed from Crossair's board of directors during the restructuring.
Suter came under fire for two Crossair plane crashes in 2000 and 2001, which killed a total of 34 people. He and Crossair CEO at the time André Dosé were acquitted of criminal negligence in the most high-profile Crossair crash, which killed 24 people outside Zurich and was attributed to pilot fatigue and error.
Bankruptcy court awaits
According to Hello CEO Robert Somers, 3,000 mainly Swiss passengers took Hello to go on holiday in the past two weeks, primarily to destinations in the Mediterranean.
Travellers with the Swiss travel agency Hotelplan were most affected by the grounding; Hotelplan says it currently has 2500 customers on holiday for whom it is arranging a way home.
Somers added that arrangements were being made with tour operators such as Hotelplan to return passengers to Switzerland and that the company was running a hotline to aid stranded passengers.
The majority of passengers scheduled to fly out of Zurich and Basel on Monday were able to travel with other airlines without incurring delays, Hello announced Monday afternoon.
The company appeared in bankruptcy court on Monday, where it was granted a delay until the end of November, giving the company's board of directors and management time to discuss recapitalisation of the company.
Hello operated 16 flights a day in summer and four in winter from Basel and Zurich to southern holiday destinations including Varna, Tenerife, Split and Sharm el-Sheikh. It operated its fleet of four aircraft primarily for Swiss-based tour companies.