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Swiss cancels long and short haul routes

Beleaguered Swiss is having to chart a tight course in difficult times for the aviation industry (Swiss)

Switzerland's troubled national airline, Swiss, has cancelled a slew of short and long haul flights across its global network.

Swiss on Tuesday blamed the Sars virus and the war in Iraq for its decision to cut dozens of scheduled flights between late April and May 31.

The cancellations confirm that falling demand for air-travel is hitting the one-year-old airline much harder than first thought.

Capacity will be cut on services to Beijing (from five to three per week) and Hong Kong (five to three), with the loss of one return flight per week to Johannesburg, Boston, Washington, Cairo, Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi.

On 16 of its European destinations, Swiss said it would use smaller aircraft, in an effort to cut costs.

Dominik Werner, a spokesman for Swiss, told swissinfo that the temporary cuts amounted to six per cent of the airline's total services.

"Sars is having a bigger effect on Swiss than the war," Werner said.

"And with the general economic crisis, we feel it on our entire network because people are flying less.

"It's like a game of dominoes... one stone starts to fall and others follow."

Fewer flights

European Routes that will be affected during May include Basel to London, and Zurich to Athens, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Belgrade, London (Heathrow), Vienna, Brussels, London City, Geneva, Pristina, Istanbul and Milan.

Midday services between Basel and Düsseldorf and Basel and Munich are also being suspended until the end of May.

Tuesday's announcement follows Swiss's decision, in the wake of the war in Iraq, to cut two of its weekly flights to Cairo. It said the Cairo cuts would remain in place.

In stark contrast to the Swiss decision, the German airline Lufthansa, on Tuesday said it was restoring all its services to the Middle East, which it had cancelled prior to the war's outbreak.

Werner said this was because Swiss had cancelled few of its Middle East routes during the war - adding that the region was still profitable for the airline.

The cuts also come just one day after Swiss strongly denied newspaper reports that it was in talks with Lufthansa about a possible takeover by the German airline.

Swiss, which was launched on April 1 last year, earlier this year announced a loss in 2002 of Sfr980 million ($705 million) and said it would not reach it target of making a profit in 2003.

Ongoing cash burn

Analysts believe Swiss is losing at least SFr1.5 million per day, prompting fears about its long-term future.

Last month it said it would cut 20 planes from its fleet of 132. It also halved its order for new aircraft and announced hundreds of job cuts.

Werner said the latest reductions would not result in any direct job loses. However, surplus staff will be encouraged to take holiday or unpaid leave.

Unused aircraft will be parked, he added.

The airline has been dogged in recent weeks by doubts about whether the airline -formed with the help of direct investment by the Swiss federal government and several cantons - is in need of a financial bailout.

Question of confidence

Werner conceded the latest cuts would do little to ease investor and customer concerns about the airline.

"That's not something we can hinder," he said. "But we can try to establish trust. We will survive this difficult year."

Swiss was launched following the collapse of Swissair in 2001.

Since then, the airline has struggled to fulfil its ambitions of becoming a global network carrier, recently announcing plans to pursue the burgeoning cut-price market.

The airline is now facing what industry figures believe will be the worst year in aviation history.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber

In brief

Swiss has cut flights around the world because of falling passenger demand caused by Sars and the war in Iraq.

All cuts are due to last until May 31

Long-haul services to be cut -

Beijing (from five to three per week)
Hong Kong (from seven to three)
Johannesburg, Boston, Washington, Dar-es-Salaam, Nairobi (one per week each)

Short haul services to be cut -

16 European destinations will be served by smaller aircraft.

They include Zurich to Athens, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Belgrade, London Heathrow, Vienna, Brussels, London City, Geneva, Pristina, Istanbul and Milan.

Midday flights between Basel-Düsseldorf, and Basel-Munich will be suspended until the end of May.

Swiss said the cuts were equal to about 6 per cent of all services.

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