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Subsidiaries floundering after Swissair collapse

Swissair could be forced down to earth if its maintainance division goes under Keystone

A task force set up by the government met in Bern on Monday to try to prevent the possible grounding of Swissair for a second time.

No details were disclosed but the head of the task force, Swiss finance director Peter Siegenthaler, is due to answer questions from the media on Tuesday morning.

Top of the agenda on Monday was the financial plight of three Swissair subsidiaries – the maintenance division, SR Technics, the Atraxis software producer and the ground handling Swissport unit.

Cash problems at SR Technics, in particular, are threatening to derail a SFr4.24 billion ($2.57 billion) rescue plan announced last week by the government and the Swiss business community to set up a new national airline, after the financial collapse of Swissair.

On Saturday, the boss of SR Technics, Hans Ulrich Beyeler, raised fears that Swissair may be grounded again because his company may not be able to service the aircraft, if it were not given financial help.

No more government money

The government on Monday ruled out any additional cash for Swissair, following its decision to pump SFr1 billion into the airline to enable it to fly a limited long-distance schedule this winter. Swiss finance ministry spokesman, Daniel Eckmann, said no more government money would be made available.

“We made a clear separation of responsibilities. The confederation is paying for the continuation of flight activities. It is up to the canton of Zurich, the banks and airport companies to solve this problem [of the subsidiaries],” he said.

There are fears that thousands of jobs could be lost if the three subsidiaries go bankrupt.

The rescue package entails building up a new national carrier around the regional airline, Crossair, which is to take over two-thirds of Swissair routes, including up to 52 leased aircraft formerly operated by Swissair.

Crossair chief executive, André Dosé, told the weekly “SonntagsZeitung” newspaper that cash is needed immediately because the financial difficulties of the three divisions were “big problem areas”.

He also told Swiss radio that he hoped the task force could come up with a solution because his firm would not be able to find an alternative maintenance service provider to replace SR Technics at short notice.

Dosé said the planned expansion of his company’s fleet by 26 medium-haul and 26 long-haul aircraft was a target but not a certainty. The final size, he said, depended on passenger numbers during the winter schedule, which has just started.

“We will certainly not fly around empty,” he commented.

Fears of a second grounding

Fears of that Swissair may be grounded again, following an earlier grounding for two days earlier this month, were triggered on Saturday by the head of SR Technics, Hans Ulrich Beyeler.

In an interview with the Zurich daily newspaper “Tages Anzeiger”, Beyeler said he needed SFr30 million ($18.16 million) by November 9 and SFr250 million by March to keep the firm operating.

“Crossair would be affected because the Swissair planes would remain grounded. A second grounding is possible and that would mean the end of the new airline,” he warned.

Beyeler also accused the government of not considering SR Technics when finalising the rescue package last week.

He explained that his company was in financial difficulties because it had not received outstanding money owed from Swissair.

Switzerland’s two largest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, have granted Swissair a bridging loan of SFr250 million but SR Technics, Atraxis and Swissport were not included.

“The banks do not think we are creditworthy,” Beyeler said in the interview.

SR Technics, which has already made 800 employees redundant, currently employs 2,800 people. Atraxis has a staff of 1,200 and Swissport has 2,700 employees.

swissinfo with agencies

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