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New Swiss airline takes off into stormy skies

Will the regional carrier take off?

(Keystone)

Swiss International Air Lines hopes to sidestep union problems with its new regional carrier, which takes off on Tuesday, a leading aviation expert told swissinfo.

Swiss European Air Lines comes into operation on November 1, after being given the green light by the Federal Civil Aviation Office.

Swiss – owned by Lufthansa – says the reorganisation saves money, but analyst Sepp Moser believes it is a ruse to outmanoeuvre the German pilots' union, Cockpit, and former Crossair pilots.

Moser also told swissinfo that the move may run into difficulties in the courts.

swissinfo: Is the formation of Swiss European Air Lines a good idea?

Sepp Moser: It's the only idea left because the integration of the former Swissair and [regional carrier] Crossair has obviously failed.

Swiss is now reinstating the former situation. Swiss European Air Lines is more or less the former Crossair, and Swiss is the former Swissair.

swissinfo: What is the purpose of this?

S.M.: The main reason is to get out of the way of the German pilots' union, Cockpit, which says it will not allow Swiss pilots to fly aircraft with 100 seats or more.

If the integration of Swiss and Lufthansa goes ahead, Cockpit has a contract with Lufthansa which states that, apart from a small number of large aircraft, all aircraft of 100 or more seats will be flown by members of the Cockpit union.

The question is: will Cockpit accept Swiss European Air Lines as a separate entity?

swissinfo: Swiss wants former Crossair pilots to accept new contracts with less attractive conditions. Will this dispute be resolved by the formation of Swiss European Air Lines?

S.M.: Swiss terminated the contracts of these former Crossair pilots on October 31. According to Swiss, former Crossair pilots with Swiss European Air Lines will now fly without a collective contract.

But they seem to have overlooked a previous Federal Court ruling which states that if a company has several collective contracts in place, employees can submit themselves to one of the other contracts if their own contract is terminated.

The Swiss Pilots' Association [which represents former Crossair pilots] says its members are now entitled to the same pay and conditions as the former Swissair pilots and cannot be fired before the end of 2006.

This will certainly go to court and we will have to wait for a verdict.

swissinfo: Swiss says the new subsidiary is a way of saving money by means of reorganisation.

S.M.: That is a pretext. Swiss cannot further reduce the pay of pilots flying for Swiss European Air Lines. The only way they can save money is in the former Swissair part [Swiss International Air Lines] where some people are grossly overpaid.

In that area Swiss is not talking about making any savings.

swissinfo: What is the future of Swiss now?

S.M.: Swiss wants to become a subsidiary of Lufthansa, but this will only take place if certain conditions are met.

Lufthansa has said it wants Swiss to stop making losses in 2006 and to be making a profit by 2007. It also wants the trade union problems to be solved by the beginning of 2007.

Another problem to be ironed out is to gain permission from most countries outside Europe, including the US, for Swiss to fly under Lufthansa's control.

Swiss is way behind in their schedule of integration and there may be some big disappointments in the pipeline.

swissinfo-interview, Matthew Allen

Key facts

Swiss European Air Lines was cleared by the Federal Civil Aviation Office to start operations on November 1.
Swiss was formed in 2002 out of the merger of regional carrier Crossair and Swissair, which collapsed in 2001.
Since then Swiss has been involved in disputes with former Crossair pilots who want the same pay and conditions as their ex-Swissair colleagues.
Lufthansa announced in March that it would take over Swiss.

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