Parliament meets on airline issues

Parliament is debating the government's handling of Swissair

Parliament, meeting for a special two-day session, is passing judgement on a massive financial package to bail out Swissair and invest in a new national carrier.

This content was published on November 16, 2001 minutes

The House of Representatives and the Senate will also discuss the government's role as a minority stakeholder in the new airline, and the liability of Swissair's former board members and management.

In addition, the debate is likely to focus on the impact the Swissair collapse has had on the labour market as well as on Switzerland's tourism industry.

Parliament is effectively being asked to rubber stamp a financial package worth just over SFr2 billion ($1.2 billion). The government agreed to provide the aid in the form of bridge loans to Swissair, as well as an investment in the new airline, which will be based around the regional carrier, Crossair.

Most political parties in favour

The government says Switzerland needs a national airline to ensure direct flight links. It pointed out the importance for the country's export-oriented business sectors and for tourism.

Three of the main political parties have come out in favour of the financial package. Only the conservative Swiss People's Party, supported by small parties to the right and the Greens, have raised objections.

As part of the package, the government pledged just over SFr1.4 billion to keep Swissair operational for the next four months, although with reduced services.

New airline from April

The new airline is due to take over by next April, and is to absorb 26 intercontinental and 26 short-haul aircraft from Swissair. Under a deal agreed between the government and industry, the federal government would take a 20 per cent stake in the new carrier and contribute SFr600 million.

Cantonal and local authorities are expected to pay SFr400 million, while private industry committed to SFr1.9 billion, taking 65 per cent of shares in the new carrier.

However, some cantons have ruled out any financial contributions to the new carrier.

Turbulent year

The debt-ridden Swissair was founded in 1931 and it has been facing serious difficulties since last January with the crisis coming to a head at the beginning of last month. Its entire fleet remained grounded for two days, because the carrier and its flight-related services, which are based at Zurich airport, had run out of cash.

The collapse of Swissair is likely to lead to about 9,000 jobs being axed worldwide, more than half of them in Switzerland.

Many people in Switzerland take pride in the company as a national symbol and a Swiss trademark abroad. Amid a public outcry over the crisis, the government has taken a leading role in mediating a solution for the country's aviation industry.

A month ago, the federal authorities and the business community, including the country's largest commercial banks, jointly announced a deal.

by Urs Geiser

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