Parliament approves funds to keep vital Swiss air links open

Empty airports and grounded aircraft: civil aviation is among the sectors most affected by the coronavirus crisis Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

Having lost its national airline, Switzerland is determined not to be deprived of international air connections as well. Parliament has approved a credit of CHF1.875 billion ($1.92 billion) to support SWISS and other aviation companies that ensure vital transport infrastructure for the Swiss economy. 

This content was published on May 6, 2020 - 11:42

Since Swissair was grounded in 2001, the civil aviation sector has been in foreign hands. Air transport is mainly provided by German airline SWISS – founded in 2002 from the ashes of Swissair and sold to Lufthansa three years later – and British airline easyJet. Airport and technical services are managed by Swissport and SR Technics, whose parent company is China’s HNA. Catering is provided by Gategroup, controlled by the Asian fund RRJ Group. 

Should the government help these foreign companies overcome the crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic to maintain an efficient air transport infrastructure in Switzerland? 

“Yes,” said parliament, in the absence of alternatives – and by a large majority. Last week it approved the government’s request for loans totalling CHF1.875 billionExternal link: CHF1.275 billion to guarantee loans to airlines operating in Switzerland and CHF600 million to support aviation companies at national airports. 

Systemic importance  

“The aviation sector is of systemic importance to Switzerland. The aviation industry generates around 5% of GDP, which is equivalent to the value of the banking sector,” Finance Minister Ueli Maurer pointed out during the debate.  

Around 40% of exports and 20% of imports are transported by air. In addition, more than half of all foreign tourists fly to Switzerland. 

A diversified economy like Switzerland’s needed international and intercontinental connections, Maurer stressed, adding that it was not essential for SWISS to provide the connections, but it was essential to have them. 

Without SWISS and the network offered by Lufthansa, Switzerland would have four or five intercontinental connections, whereas today there are 20 to 30, he said. 

After Swissair’s grounding, passenger traffic in Switzerland fell sharply, but in the past 15 years, since SWISS was taken over by Lufthansa, the number has practically doubled. In 2019 SWISS transported 19 million passengers to 45 countries. Freight traffic, provided by the Swiss WorldCargo division, covered 130 destinations in 80 countries.

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