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New SAirGroup chairman gives himself five years to rebuild Swissair

New SAirGroup chairman, Mario Corti, is hoping to reinflate the national carrier, Swissair

(Keystone)

The newly appointed chairman of SAirGroup, Mario Corti, has said he needs five years to turn the ailing company around.

In an interview on Swiss radio, Corti said his task as chairman was to create "for the Swiss people a Swissair of which they can be proud," but cautioned he would need at least five years to achieve this.

Corti did not mention the word SAirGroup once in the interview, referring to the company simply as Swissair. SAirGroup is the holding company of the national carrier, and also owns stakes in a number of other airlines, including the loss-making Belgian carrier, Sabena.

SAirGroup owns a 49 per cent stake in Sabena, but Corti has let it be known he is in favour of parting company with the airline.

The new chairman also hinted he was looking towards an eventual merger of Swissair with its regional subsidiary, Crossair. He declined to comment on whether job losses would follow such a merger.

Nor did Corti make any reference to the future of the regional French airlines, AOM, Air Liberté and Air Littoral, which are owned by SAirGroup. All three airlines are facing bankruptcy.

The Swiss press has reacted favourably to the appointment of Corti, who has already been dubbed "Super Mario". The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" newspaper said the change at the top of the company was the "first positive sign after a period of crisis".

The "Berner Zeitung" called Corti the "SAir saviour", but questioned whether he would be able to "pull the company out of its nosedive".

In an interview with the Swiss German newspaper, "Bild", Corti expressed his dissatisfaction with the SAirGroup brand. "The title SAirGroup really gets on my nerves," he said. "There is only one name for the company - and that's Swissair".

The SAirGroup brand was established by the company's former chairman, Philippe Bruggisser, but has become synonymous with the group's downturn in fortunes over the last few years.

SAirGroup is estimated to have lost as much as SFr2.5 billion in the past year. The management board announced its mass resignation on March 9, taking collective responsibility for the company's financial problems.

Corti, 55, was the only member of the board not to resign and was consequently widely tipped to take over from his predecessor, Eric Honegger. He is currently chief financial officer of the food giant Nestlé, but has also held top positions at Switzerland's National Bank and the federal office for foreign trade.

Nestlé issued a statement on Friday announcing Corti's resignation from his functions with effect from April 5. It expressed regret at his decision, but offered him its support for the future.

swissinfo with agencies


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