Swiss International Air Lines' insistence on maintaining a long-haul network may be blocking a potentially lifesaving merger, unions fear.

Lufthansa and Swiss refute persistent rumours of a tie-up, with Swiss saying: "We are always talking to other airlines." But Swiss Pilots Association president David Bieli says: "We cannot keep the long-haul network as it is now - that is absolute nonsense. It is much wiser for Swiss to have a large European network with a feeder service to London. This would make it a perfect partner for British Airways."

Bieli blames internal politics for blocking a BA deal. "The ex-Swissair guys in Swiss know that BA would downsize the long-haul fleet and will do everything to stop this happening," he says.

Airline analysts agree that the Swiss long-haul fleet is too large. JP Morgan airlines analyst Chris Avery compares Swiss to Austrian Airlines, which has only four long-haul Airbus A340s. He says "it would be sustainable for Swiss to look like Austrian", as it serves a smaller population than does Austrian.

For months, Swiss chief executive André Dosé has viewed a merger as inevitable, saying: "It's certain Swiss won't be able to survive if we aren't part of a merger." Lufthansa has reportedly offered SFr200-300 million ($148-$222 million) for a 30% stake in Swiss.

Source: Flight International