Switzerland is moving closer to creating a new national carrier as hurdles are cleared in the long-running effort to replace bankrupt Swissair with an expanded and rebranded Crossair.

Crucially, the capital needed to launch the carrier is now virtually in place, says a Crossair spokesman. In the short term a new name and look will emerge. However, gaining membership of one of the global alliances could take longer than expected.

A key event took place in mid-January when the voters of Zurich backed a SFr300 million ($180 million) capital injection into the new airline. The new Crossair board had made a yes vote one of the conditions linked to the approval of its business plan to form the new carrier. The cash injection by the Canton of Zurich is almost the final tranche of the SFr4.2 billion being earmarked for the carrier by Swiss public and private bodies.

Crossair chief executive Andre Dose has been conducting intensive discussions with the global alliances for the past month, but they are "pretty long and difficult", says the airline, and an announcement is not expected until the end of March. One of the issues is that the alliances recognise Crossair is in a transition phase, and do not know how successful it will be when it enters operation.

The Crossair plan sees the full transfer of operations from Swissair to the new carrier, which started on 15 January, complete by the start of the summer timetable at the end of March. At present, Swissair is operating on 16 European routes mainly from Zurich on behalf of Crossair using the latter's LX code. This involves Crossair wet-leasing the equivalent of 23 aircraft from Swissair. A further three aircraft are being operated by Swissair on six European routes on its own behalf, while it is serving 37 long-haul destinations with the equivalent of 30 aircraft also on its own behalf. Prior to its bankruptcy, Swissair operated 76 aircraft to 225 destinations. Crossair plans to operate 26 former Swissair aircraft on short-haul routes, with the same number on long-haul.

Swissair, which hopes to generate SFr750 million in revenue from ticket sales during the winter period, saw its intercontinental route load factors improve from 73.2% in the first two weeks of December to 79% in the first two weeks of January. European routes continued to struggle with load factors flat at 51%. Forward bookings for February were healthy, says the company, and an improvement over January.

Source: Airline Business