justin wastnage / london

Carrier could be hived off as the troubled Swiss airline seeks ways to return to profit

LOT Polish Airlines may follow AOM-Air Liberte out of the Swissair Group portfolio as early as November, leading the way to eventual Star Alliance membership.


The Polish flag carrier's newly appointed global sales director, Maciej Heydel says that while Swissair's chairman Mario Corti has publicly declared that LOT is central to Swissair's future plans, the troubled Zurich-based airline may be forced to hive off further parts, including LOT, before it returns to profitability. "We have been watching the situation in Belgium with Sabena very closely and I wouldn't be surprised if LOT were no longer part of Swissair group by November," he says.

Heydel confirms that his airline "is looking to the left and to the right" for other financing options should Swissair decide to pull out. Industry insiders say that Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) could be a potential acquirer of Swissair's 37% stake in the Polish airline. Lufthansa is likely to support any Scandinavian purchase, as it would bring LOTinto the Star Alliance family.

LOThas long-established links with British Airways and was at one stage in talks to deepen its relationship with the UK carrier. BA says now, however, that it has no interest in taking Swissair's stake off its hands.

The Polish airline remains 52% owned by the government, although this is set to be diluted by a further phase of privatisation later this year. Market conditions and a general election set for September are likely to delay the move.

Swissair says that as LOT's "figures are in the black" it is a different case to Sabena and adds that Swissair looks forward to continuing its relationship with LOT. The company also dismisses speculation that the Qualiflyer Group is discussing a full merger with Star Alliance.

SAS says that while it cannot discuss potential future acquisitions, LOT would fall into its new strategic plan for the region. Following its acquisition of Norway's Braathens, SAS chief executive Jürgen Lindegaard redefined SAS' domestic market as encompassing the entire Baltic Sea and northern Europe area.

Source: Flight International