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Press mixed on airline rescue plan

The media weren't entirely convinced by the government's plan

Praise, criticism and caution warnings have appeared in the Swiss press after the government and industry leaders announced they would rescue the national airline.

The cabinet, the banks and captains of industry came up with a SFr4.24 billion ($2.65 billion) finance package to build a new carrier on the foundations of the regional carrier Crossair and the remains of Swissair, which collapsed under a mountain of debt.

The tabloid “Blick” newspaper of Zurich called the rescue plan a “masterpiece” of the finance minister, Kaspar Villger.

“Switzerland still has an airline – thanks to a historical show of strength from the politicians and the business community,” Blick reported. And it quoted Villiger as saying such a project would normally have taken seven to eight years to achieve.

The “Tages Anzeiger” said it was the “right decision” to back an intercontinental airline under a Swiss flag.

Switzerland is in a difficult economic phase, it reported, with a quick recovery increasingly improbable.

“The politicians and the business community want to tackle the crisis together. That is first and foremost a success for the country. This partnership could be a decisive advantage for Switzerland as it faces the challenges of the future,” it said.

Other newspapers were not so convinced that the decision followed logic or real business sense.

No euphoria

The conservative Neue Zürcher Zeitung” was one of several newspapers to comment that there should be no euphoria following Monday’s decision. There was cause for hope for the future but many questions remained.

“The government could be asked whether it is its duty to help save with taxpayers’ money a company whose management failed in the marketplace so glaringly,” it wrote.

It asked whether the new company had a real chance in today’s aviation world.

Geneva’s “Le Temps” believes that the government, with its back to the wall, had little choice but to back the rescue plan and it echoes concerns about the airline’s survival.

“The chances (of survival) are slim, the risks are considerable. We don’t know whether the merger between the sister enemies of Crossair and Swissair will be possible,” it cautioned.

“Cuckoo clocks”

London’s “Financial Times” believes, like others, that emotion prevailed over reason in the decision-making process.

Under the headline ‘Cloud cuckoo clocks’, it questions the contribution to the deal by the business community.

“It appears hard-nosed commercial sense has been undermined by national pride…The government, too, risks putting Switzerland’s reputation for prudent housekeeping on the line,” it wrote.

The European edition of the “Wall Street Journal” also highlights the harsh world of competition awaiting the new venture.

“Some still view the arrangement as nothing more than a stay of execution and question starting a new flag carrier at a time when the public is reluctant to fly and the airline industry as a whole is trimming capacity,” it said.

Harsh words

And the Fribourg newspaper “La Liberté” does not mince its words about the project, dubbed “Operation Phoenix”, which will now be carried out.

“The Phoenix project for a large Crossair, born out of the ashes of the unfortunate Swissair, is insane. It is a dangerous piece of poker and taxpayers’ money deserves to be better spent than on a very improbable bet about the future,” it commented.

It reflects a feeling in the French-language Swiss newspapers that Swiss taxpayers as a whole are having to shell out for an airline hub in Zurich, after Swissair turned its back on Geneva as an international hub several years ago.

While the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” feels that there is so much stigma attached to the name “Swissair” that it should have no part in the future airline’s name, the “Bund” newspaper of Bern argues that it’s now time to look forward in earnest.

“After the decision has been made, it would be wrong to talk only of risks. Now it’s a question of concentrating hard on the building up phase. The new airline also has opportunities. And these have to be seized.”

by Robert Brookes

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR