COLIN BAKER LONDON
Philippe Bruggisser has left his position as chief executive of the SAirGroup, with Crossair president Moritz Suter taking over the group's airline division
Analysts are asking whether this hastens the day when SAir teams up with a major global alliance. oneworld has long been seen as a good fit for SAir, although there are rumours in Brussels of a link with the Star Alliance.
Bruggisser's departure follows growing tension at boardroom level as the airline division suffered continued losses. "There comes a time when enough is enough," explains one analyst. The cost and the time involved in turning Swissair and Sabena around was straining shareholder nerves.
SAir plans to increase the co-operation between Swissair, Sabena and Crossair to the point where they are virtually a single entity. The group is putting a halt to its policy of taking equity stakes in other carriers, although the plan to take an 85%stake in Sabena is said to be going ahead.
This policy has been a cornerstone of the group's strategy as it tries to build up its Qualiflyer alliance in the face of competition from the likes of Star, oneworld and SkyTeam.
However, there will be no disinvestments in the various shareholdings in several second-tier European carriers. "I haven't seen a change in strategy. I'm waiting to see who becomes chief executive officer of the group," says one analyst. SAirGroup chairman Eric Honegger is acting as interim group chief executive.
Suter's promotion to head of the SAirLines division has raised some eyebrows. Crossair has had a tough year and one analyst comments, "I thought he was on the way out."
The new heads of Swissair and Crossair are both promoted from the operational side of their respective airlines. The new chief executive of Swissair is Beat Schär, while Andre Dosé becomes president of Crossair. "Dosé is well-liked and well-respected by both management and the unions," says one source close to SAir.
Just before Bruggisser's departure, the Belgian Government and SAir reached tentative agreement on a rescue plan for Sabena. SAir is putting up €150 million ($139 million) as part of a €750 million rescue package, compared with €100 million from the Belgian Government.
The deal was reached after much bickering between the Belgians and SAir over the share of the capital input. There are still fears that the European Commission will see the Belgian Government stake as illegal state aid.
Another potential stumbling block is the unions, who must agree to a package of job cuts and network rationalisation to save €350 million. This still leaves another €150 million to be found. It is perhaps not surprising that there are rumours in Brussels, refuted by SAir, that the latter has considered withdrawing its shareholding in Sabena and putting its money in its French operations.
Suter, for one, is not over enthusiastic about the strategy of taking equity stakes in other carriers, and says the Sabena relationship is not sacrosanct either.
Source: Airline Business