Swissair returns to skies after government intervention

Swissair pilots give a thumbs up as they prepare for take off on Thursday Keystone

Swissair flights resumed on Thursday after the Swiss government granted the ailing national carrier a SFr450 million ($280 million) bailout package. But the cash injection has sparked concern in Brussels, where the European Commission has summoned the Swiss ambassador to the EU for urgent talks.

This content was published on October 4, 2001 minutes

Hours after Swissair jets took to the skies following a 48-hour grounding of the airline's fleet, the commission released a statement in which it expressed its "concern that the Swiss government felt able to give aid without consulting with EU authorities".

The emergency cash injection announced on Wednesday by the Swiss finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, is designed to ensure the airline can keep flying until the end of the month, when many of its routes are to be taken over by the regional carrier, Crossair.

Swissair said on Thursday it was now operating around a third of its scheduled routes.

A third of usual traffic

"We expect to operate about 160 flights, which is about 33 per cent of our normal traffic," said Swissair spokesman, Patrick Jeandrain.

Crossair said it would operate 110 flights on Thursday which had previously been operated by Swissair.

The first flight of the day, bound for Johannesburg, departed from Zurich at around 10:10am CET. Flights to Los Angeles, Skopje and Moscow followed soon after.

But the airline said seven previously routine flights from Zurich to the Belgian capital, Brussels, had been suspended.

Swissair said the risk that its aircraft might be seized in Brussels "was too high".

Belgium's cash-strapped national airline, Sabena, is to seek bankruptcy protection after Swissair - which owns 49.5 per cent of the carrier - failed this week to honour a commitment to pump SFr387 million ($239.8 million) into the airline.

"The situation with the Belgian company Sabena remains as ever very delicate," Swissair said on Thursday.

Swissair "a national problem"

Defending the Swiss government's decision to bail out the troubled airline, the finance ministry spokesman told swissinfo on Wednesday Swissair was "a national problem, a problem of credibility for our country"

The government said the decision was a temporary solution to the airline's cash crisis, which had grounded the entire Swissair fleet, and left 38,000 passengers trapped in airports around the world.

Switzerland's two largest banks, UBS and Credit Suisse, have come under fire for not doing enough to ensure that Swissair could keep flying until October 28, when its former regional subsidiary, Crossair, is due to take over the bulk of its routes.

UBS, which has come in for particular criticism from the Swiss public for its handling of the financial crisis at Swissair, said in a statement it hoped the "regrettable situation of the past two days will quickly improve as a result of this solution."

Both Credit Suisse and UBS have pledged to pay SFr110 million ($68.2 million) to cover the cost of employee deposits at Swissair Group's in-house savings bank.

swissinfo with agencies

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