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New aircraft to play major Swiss role

The twin-jet 70-seat Embraer 170 will be important to the European air transport activities of the new Crossair Keystone Archive

A milestone event in the history of the Swiss regional airline Crossair nearly went unnoticed in Switzerland this week.

As media coverage focused on Swissair’s noisy financial collapse and new plans for Crossair, in Brazil, meanwhile, a new aircraft was quietly rolled out that is likely to play a big role in Switzerland.

The twin-jet 70-seat Embraer 170 – will be important to the European air transport activities of the new Crossair, and will give the airline a key competitive advantage.

Crossair decided in June 1999 that Embraer would play a major part in its fleet replacement plans, costing about SFR5 billion ($3 billion). The company is already operating 18 of the smaller ERJ 145s with 49 seats, with seven more coming into service next year.

That aircraft has been so successful that more than 1,200 have been sold worldwide, allowing Embraer to vie with Canada’s Bombardier as the world’s third largest jetmaker, after Boeing and Airbus.

The new Embraer 170 has cost $850 million to develop. The company says the export potential of the 170/190 family is $15 billion in the next 10 years.

First customer

Crossair, as the first customer, has ordered 30 170s and 30 of the larger 190s, which have 98 seats, to replace its existing fleet,which consists partly of turboprops.

“We analysed the market and we believe that it needs a change of the size and quality of the aircraft. This was the main factor to drive us to go into a new programme and continue it now,” Crossair’s vice president flight operations Dominik Waser told swissinfo.

“It’s most important not only for Crossair but also for the industry,” he added.

Crossair’s chief executive, André Dosé, confirmed on October 1 that orders for the new aircraft would be honoured, despite the collapse of Swissair. However, it is not clear what the new airline will do with respect to further options.

“Right now the orders will not be affected negatively. They will rather be affected in a positive way because we will be replacing some of (Swissair’s) small Airbus 319s and 320s with the Embraer 170 and 190 family,” Waser told swissinfo.

Strict conditions

As launch carrier, Crossair placed strict conditions on Embraer regarding the environment, passenger comfort and economic efficiency, which have all been met. The company has said that the new jets will be the market leaders in their respective classes.

“This aircraft offers the comfort and safety level of an Airbus or Boeing airliner at a lower cost because they are lighter and much more modern technologically,” Waser said.

“The 170 with its four abreast configuration offers significantly more comfort and also versatility for different types of operations.”

“Our task was to convince Embraer that the market needs this particular size and quality of aircraft and that’s where we had a lot of influence on decisions and the design, not so much in a detailed technical way,” he added.

Crossair is due to take delivery of its first 170 in December next year, with the aircraft expected to be put into operation by March 2003.

by Robert Brookes

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR