Carrier insists deal with pilots' union on redundancy split must be modified before downsizing can be put into effect

Switzerland's flag carrier Swiss International Air Lines is cutting up to a third of its fleet and workforce to reverse its deteriorating financial situation.

The downsizing, which will see 34 aircraft withdrawn and 3,000 employees laid off, may still not be enough to save the airline unless it can also reach a new agreement with its pilots' unions by 15July.

The bulk of the cuts will fall on the regional fleet, which consists of 23 BAE Systems Avro RJs, 20 Embraer ERJ-145s and 20 Saab 2000 turboprops. One entire type - either the ERJ-145s or the Saab 2000s - will be grounded, and four more aircraft from the surviving fleet and the regional jet fleet will go, reducing the regional fleet to 35 aircraft. Three of the airline's 24 medium-range A320 family aircraft will be removed, but the exact mix of models has not been decided.

Swiss is continuing with plans to phase out its 12 Boeing MD-11s and replace them with new Airbus A340-300s over the next 12 months, starting this month, but it has reduced the firm order from 12 to nine aircraft. Four of its 13 A330-200s will also be grounded, so that the airline's long-haul fleet will be reduced by 30% to 18 aircraft a year from now.

Most of the 3,000 job cuts will be forced redundancies, Swiss says, which will create problems with its two pilot unions. Last month an arbitration court resolved a dispute between Swiss and the unions by compelling the airline to split any redundancies equally between ex-Swissair and ex-Crossair pilots, but Swiss now says that the agreement "jeopardises the implementation of the new business plan, and hence the company's survival".

Unless it can reach a more flexible arrangement with the unions by 15 July, the airline says it will not be able to put the reductions into effect by the beginning of the airline's winter timetable in October.

Route cuts are also on the way by winter, the airline says. It plans to cut 31% of capacity on its medium- and long-haul services and 38% of regional capacity. Many destinations will be eliminated, and others currently served from more than one of Swiss's three hubs - Basle, Geneva and Zurich - will be served from only one.

Maintenance company SR Technics says that up to 500 of its 3,000 staff could go in the wake of the Swiss restructuring, while freight handler Cargologic will cut 150 of its 800 staff.

Source: Flight International