Herman de Wulf/BRUSSELS

SABENA PLANS to shed its cargo and catering departments, with the possibility that they will be merged into the larger operations being run by the carrier's alliance partner and effective owner Swissair.

Paul Reutlinger, who was brought in as Sabena president by Swissair earlier this year, suggests that the divisions could be "integrated into a larger entity". The catering section, is destined to be swallowed by Swissair, and it seems likely, that the cargo operation will go the same way.

Swissair has already highlighted the need to tackle Sabena's non-core divisions, including the ground handling and maintenance operations, as part of plans to turn the struggling Belgian airline back into profit by a 1998 deadline. Reutlinger has told staff that Sabena needs to find BFr4.7 billion ($150 million) to save it from bankruptcy. Around BFr2 billion is expected to come from lower labour costs, but the bulk of the savings are being sought through restructuring and gains from integration with Swissair.

Under the plan, Sabena's catering department will become part of Swissair's own Gate Gourmet subsidiary, which is already the second-largest airline-catering operation in the world.

Reutlinger also suggests that Sabena's dwindling cargo operation would benefit from integration with the Swissair cargo business. Productivity within Sabena Cargo has been tailing off, following a cut in capacity caused by the withdrawal from service of two older Boeing 747-100s and two McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 Combis. The all-freight, Zaire Express service has also ceased.


The Sabena Technics maintenance operation, now employing 2,400 people, will be retained, but needs "new investments and an optimising of resources".

Reutlinger says that Sabena's ground handling must also "-increase competitiveness" in advance of the opening up of competition within Europe by 1998. The airline is believed to be considering abandoning its own handling operation and subcontracting the work.

Source: Flight International