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Swiss billionaire pledges SFr200 million for new national airline

Haefner is thought to be the second richest Swiss Keystone Archive

A 91-year-old Swiss billionaire has pledged SFr200 million to help build a new national airline for Switzerland. Walter Haefner's offer comes as fears grow about the viability of an SFr1.4 billion rescue plan for the ailing national carrier, Swissair.

The partial rescue plan, put together by Switzerland’s two largest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, is supposed to see the regional carrier, Crossair, take over many of Swissair’s routes at the end of the month.

But Haefner said he hoped his gesture would encourage other Swiss millionaires to come forward and offer more donations to give the new national airline a financial boost.

The Swiss newspaper, “Blick”, said self-made billionaire Haefner’s offer was like a “present from heaven” for all Swissair employees whose jobs are on the line when Swissair ceases to exist at the end of October.

At the beginning of the week, Swissair Group’s chairman, Mario Corti, told shocked staff that 9,000 jobs would have to go if the airline was to continue operations until Crossair was ready to take over.

Trade union officials say the final redundancy tally may be much higher than the figure announced by Corti. Some fear up to 52,000 people worldwide could be made redundant when Swissair is wound up.

Haefner, who made his fortune through a car importing business he founded in 1945, is well-known to the Swiss public for his charitable acts.

Twelve months ago, after a mudslide devastated the village of Gondo in canton Valais, Haefner donated SFr1 million to help with the emergency recovery effort.

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