Darwin complains about Swiss domestic flights flown by austrian pilots

Etihad Regional ATR72-500
Etihad Regional ATR72-500 (© M. Eigenherr CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Swiss regional carrier Darwin Airline, which operates under the Etihad Regional brand, has written to Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) questioning the legality of plans by Swiss International Air Lines to engage Austria’s Tyrolean Airways to operate Swiss domestic flights.

Swiss International Air Lines recently announced that Tyrolean, a subsidiary of Austrian Airlines, will operate on Swiss International Air Lines’ behalf between Darwin’s home base of Lugano and the cities of Geneva and Zurich, using 76-seat De Havilland DHC Dash 8-400 aircraft.

The Chief Executive Officer of Darwin Airline, Maurizio Merlo, said he understood that this “wet lease” arrangement – which involves the provision by Tyrolean of an aircraft and crew – was a long-term plan by Swiss International Air Lines and not simply an arrangement to cover temporary unavailability of Swiss-registered aircraft.

“In our letter to FOCA we have questioned the legal right of Tyrolean, as an Austrian-licensed airline, to operate domestic flights in Switzerland under the European Union-Swiss Air Transport Agreement, or under surviving conditions of the previous Swiss-Austrian bilateral air services agreement,” Mr Merlo said.

“According to advice from the Regulator, it was not the agency’s policy to permit a Swiss airline to use non-Swiss registered wet lease capacity, other than on a temporary basis, if suitable Swiss-registered aircraft were available,” he said.

For almost ten years, Darwin Airline has operated the Lugano-Zurich route on behalf of Swiss International Air Lines through a wet lease arrangement.

Earlier this year Swiss International Air Lines advised that it would sever all commercial links with Darwin Airline following Darwin’s announcement of a commercial partnership and proposed minority equity participation by Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Merlo said: “Darwin Airline submitted to Swiss International Air Lines an offer to renew the wet-lease contract currently in place for the operation on the Lugano-Zurich route. However, the offer was rejected despite the high level of quality we have provided over almost ten years to the benefit of Swiss International Air Lines and its passengers, which has been repeatedly acknowledged by Swiss International Air Lines itself.

“We have requested FOCA to take a position on the consistency of a wet-lease arrangement between Swiss International Air Lines and Tyrolean Airways, for operations by Tyrolean on Swiss domestic routes within the existing regulations.

“Darwin Airline’s serious concern is that Swiss International Air Lines may be able to use non-Swiss registered wet lease capacity to serve domestic destinations in a manner which could be inconsistent with Swiss International Air Lines’ legal duty not to abuse its dominant position.”

Both Swiss International Air Lines and Tyrolean Airways’ parent, Austrian Airlines, are wholly owned subsidiaries of Germany’s Lufthansa Aviation Group, which describes itself as “the world’s biggest airline group.”

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