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Parliament calls for inquiry into Swissair collapse

Parliamentarians are keen to find out who is to blame for Swissair's demise Keystone Archive

The House of Representatives has called for a parliamentary inquiry into who is to blame for the demise of Swissair.

Politicians voted in favour of a proposal – tabled on Thursday by the centre-right Christian Democratic Party – to begin an urgent investigation into the collapse of the country’s flagship carrier.

The proposal has still to be approved by the Senate before the inquiry can proceed.

Parliamentarians are keen to establish whether any blame can be levelled at the federal authorities, in particular the Federal Office for Civil Aviation.

Doris Leuthard, an MP from the Christian Democratic Party, said the inquiry should also examine “why the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs had neither anticipated nor foreseen the Swissair debacle”.

Swissair’s entire fleet was grounded for 48 hours last October when the airline ran out of cash to pay for fuel. The airline took to the skies again only after an emergency SFr250 million cash injection from the federal government. The incident was seen as a national humiliation for Switzerland.

Apportioning blame

Analysts say the issue of who is to blame for the collapse of Switzerland’s national airline is likely to be at the centre of the parliamentary investigation.

A separate parliamentary subcommittee has already been established and is currently investigating the issue of whether the grounding of Swissair’s fleet could have been avoided.

The heads of Switzerland’s two largest banks, Credit Suisse and UBS, have been hauled before the subcommittee to explain their role in the airline’s grounding.

Critics blame Marcel Ospel of UBS and Lukas Mühlemann of Credit Suisse for not doing enough last October to keep the national carrier in the air.

The suspension of flights came just 24 hours after the banks had announced an SFr1 billion ($620 million) bridging credit for the ailing airline, which had run up debts of SFr17 billion ($10.5 billion).

Swissair’s former subsidiary, Crossair, is to take over the bulk of Swissair’s profitable routes and 26 of its jets when it re-launches under the “swiss” brand name on April 1.

Seeking partners

Meanwhile Crossair boss, André Dose, confirmed on Thursday that the new airline “swiss” would join one of the international alliances, when it comes into being on March 31.

Speaking in Lausanne, he said the airline was in talks with two of the three big alliances, and expected to join one by the end of the month. “I’m convinced that we will sign an agreement before April 1,” he said.

The world’s three main alliances are Oneworld (headed by British Airways and American Airlines), Star Alliance (Lufthansa) and Skyteam (Air France).

Dosé refused to say which alliance he was aiming to join, but said he was seeking an American partner. “We have to give our customers access to key US destinations.”

He added that he did not subscribe to the view that Europe could only support three large carriers and that the key to survival was to be part of a strong alliance.

Swissair itself had tried to compete at the head of an alliance by buying stakes in smaller regional airlines – a strategy which ultimately brought down the company.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR