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SAirGroup board closes ranks

SAirGroup president, Eric Honegger, is standing down as the company seeks a change of direction

(Keystone)

The outgoing SAirGroup president, Eric Honegger, said on Saturday the management board took collective responsibility for the crisis surrounding the future of the company. His comments follow the surprise announcement on Friday that SAirGroup's board of directors are to resign en masse to pave the way for a new future.

The management board of SAirGroup, the holding company of the national carrier Swissair, announced its resignation on Friday as part of a major shift in strategy. It was the latest in a series of dramatic announcements affecting the company in the past two months.

Honegger said the restructuring of the company would be complete within one year.

"After that time, the company will start to register a profit," Honegger said in an interview with the Swiss newspaper, "Neue Zürcher Zeitung", on Saturday.

A company statement said all but one member of the board would resign in the next year.

Five board members are to step down at the annual general assembly on April 25. Four others, including the group president, Eric Honegger, will leave by spring 2002.

Asked why the management board had taken the decision to resign in two waves, rather than all at once, Honegger said this was in order to "prevent a vacuum at the top of the company".

But aviation correspondent Sepp Moser rejected the suggestion that the board's resignation would be a quick fix for SAirGroup.

"None of the company's many problems have been solved," Moser told swissinfo. "The only thing that has changed is that a few people at the top have decided to resign."

"The same people remain in power, at least for the time being, and these are the people who have caused the mess the company is now in."

Honegger denied that those leaving the company in the first round of resignations were taking more of the blame for SAirGroup's performance.

"I reject any suggestion that some are more responsible than others. We all accept the same responsibility."

Only one member of the current board, Mario Corti, has survived the mass resignation. The board will, in future, be slimmed down to seven members - three of whom are to be appointed already in April.

It is the latest in a series of major changes at the top of the troubled group.

The newly-appointed head of the group's airline division, Moritz Suter, resigned unexpectedly on Wednesday after just 44 days in the job. Differences with the board over structure and his failure to get his own way over decision-making were cited as reasons for his premature departure.

Suter was appointed as a replacement for Philippe Bruggisser who left the company in January after his policy of buying into foreign airlines and other ventures was deemed too costly and unsuccessful.

Since then, SAirGroup has called into question a series of the deals made by Bruggisser.

SAirGroup agreed last month to a bail-out package for the Belgian national carrier, Sabena, in which it has a 49.5 per cent share, but Honegger made it clear the group would re-consider its long-term commitment.

Commentators have questioned SAirGroup's decision to press ahead with the Sabena bail-out.

"The fact remains that Sabena has no real future and will have to be liquidated sooner or later", Moser told swissinfo.

The person appointed to oversee SAirGroup's takeover of three regional French airlines, Paul Reutlinger, resigned from the post last month.

swissinfo with agencies


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