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Sabena Considers Swissair Bailout

March 13, 2001

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Sabena, Belgium’s financially ailing national airline, said Tuesday that its joint venture with equally troubled Swissair may come to an end soon.

``We do not want to exclude anything,″ said Sabena spokesman Wilfried Remans, confirming a report Sabena told its unions last week that a divorce from Swissair may be at hand.

Inge Vervotte, a union spokeswoman, said the unions were seeking an urgent meeting with Rik Daems, the Belgian minister in charge of state-owned enterprises.

Swissair’s parent, SAirGroup, owns 49.5 percent of Sabena, the Belgian government the remainder. Swissair announced plans last April to raise its stake to 85 percent, but recently put that on hold as it reexamines its entire business strategy.

Stock in SAirGroup dove this week after nine of its 10 directors said they will quit over the next 14 months. Swissair’s troubles stem in large part from unprofitable operations in part-owned smaller airlines such as Sabena.

On Tuesday, the daily De Morgen reported Sabena chief executive Christoph Mueller discussed with trade unions last week the possibility of a breakup with Swissair and the shedding of as many as 4,000 jobs _ a third of the Sabena work force.

Last month, the Belgian government and SAirGroup endorsed a two-year, cost-cutting plan for Sabena that included an infusion of 250 million euros ($ 226 million) in cash to keep Sabena flying.

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