Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Crossair is being earmarked to take over loss-making Swissair and Sabena short-haul routes as part of SAirGroup's plans to turn around the financial performance of its airline division, Flight International can reveal.

The route transfers are seen as part of a wide-ranging package of measures being worked on by Airline Management Partnership (AMP) under project "Clean Slate", say industry sources. AMP is the joint venture company set up to co-ordinate the operations of Swissair and Sabena.

The anticipated expansion of Crossair's role has been backed by last week's decision to replace the airline's Boeing MD-80s with a new fleet of Airbus A320s. These aircraft will be taken with a near-identical specification to those already operated by Swissair and Sabena, to provide full interoperability between fleets.

Crossair, predominantly a regional carrier, is able to operate mainline flights at much lower cost than Swissair or Sabena, but any attempt to implement a wholesale transfer of routes would almost certainly meet union opposition.

"Within project Clean Slate, we have lots of different options and sub-projects and this is one of the ones that we are going to think about," say SAirGroup. "We are trying to find out where we can reduce our costs but just because this is a Clean Slate project does not mean that we are going to do it."

Sabena is facing a critical financial situation, with losses for the current year predicted to hit $165 million. Emergency measures have already been taken, including the removal of two Airbus A340s.

SAirGroup CEO Philippe Bruggisser met union representatives in Brussels in October to try to thrash out acceptance of the airline's "Blue Sky" rescue package.

The Belgian flag-carrier's president, Christoph Mueller, admits that a turnaround is difficult to achieve because Sabena's problems are "more structural".

SAirGroup owns 49.5% of the airline, but is planning to increase this to 85% during the first half of 2001.

Crossair has already taken over former Swissair routes operated by aircraft with fewer than 100 seats, and it operates several mainline routes on behalf of its parent. The carrier will lease eight A320s from GATX/Flightlease for delivery from early 2002, and has taken options on four more aircraft.

Meanwhile, four MD-80s will leave the fleet earlier than planned, before the end of the winter timetable, followed by five Saab 2000s next summer.

The airline has warned that after a disappointing financial performance in November, due mainly to high fuel costs and the strong US dollar, "it is no longer possible to envisage a positive result for the year 2000."

Source: Flight International