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Geneva wants to benefit from rescue plan, too

Local authorities would like to see some of the Crossair money flow to Geneva airport Keystone Archive

French-speaking cantons have reacted with far more reticence to the plan to rescue the national air carrier than German-speaking regions. They insist that the new company must not only benefit Zurich, but Geneva as well.

This content was published on October 23, 2001 - 13:34

There is a general feeling of dismay in French-speaking cantons that a lot of money - much of it provided by taxpayers - has been mobilised in a short time to secure an airline hub in Zurich, several years after Swissair turned its back on the Geneva airport as an international centre.

That feeling was reflected in the decision of Geneva's cantonal government, which, unlike its counterparts in Zurich and Basel, said it required more information about the new company before agreeing to help finance it.

Financial viability

After an emergency meeting, the cantonal government said it wanted to see a business plan outlining the financial viability of the new entity, as well as guarantees that services to Geneva airport would be improved.

"There's no question of our money helping to prop up the Zurich hub," the head of the cantonal government, Carlo Lamprecht, was quoted as saying.

"If we get involved, it's on the understanding that Zurich doesn't grab it all," he added.

He conceded that the private sector had decided to invest more that expected in the new company, which is being built on the foundations of the regional carrier, Crossair, following the collapse of the debt-ridden Swissair.

Lamprecht suggested that the government might make its contribution conditional on the creation of long-haul lines from Geneva: "Two or three intercontinental destinations would be a minimum," he said.

Wait-and-see

The question then would be how much Geneva would be prepared to pour into the new company. That may become clear on Wednesday, when the cantonal government is expected to give a more detailed response.

The federal government would like to see those cantons with an international airport invest SFr 400 million ($240 million); the Zurich cantonal government was quick to come up with SFr 300 million ($180 million), and the city authorities a further SFr 50 million. Basel-City and Basel-Country say they will provide a combined total of SFr31 million.

Like Geneva, other French-speaking cantons are adopting a wait-and-see approach. The governments of Vaud, Jura and Neuchâtel are also sitting on their hands until they receive more detailed information from the federal government.

Canton Vaud's economy minister, Jacqueline Maurer-Mayor, said she had told the federal finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, that the government would stand with Geneva. Vaud's contribution to the new company is expected to be between SFr 10 and 20 million.

by Roy Probert

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