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Swissair's know-how is wiping out Sabena's 'bad experiences.' Now, if the government and unions would stop Interfering...

LONDON-When SAirGroup took over Air France's 49.5% stake in Belgian national carrier Sabena in 1995, the move offered back-door entry into EU aviation liberalization, which had been denied the non-EU member Swiss. In exchange, Swiss efficiency was to be applied to Sabena's traditionally sluggish performance.

Outwardly, the tie-up has worked well--so far, Swissair, representing a nation with a population of just 7 million, is increasing its reach far beyond the narrow limits of its national boundaries, while the Belgian carrier's showing is benefiting from a massive injection of Swiss know-how to an extent that the airline industry's jokey acronym--Such A Bad Experience, Never Again--long Sabena's burden, is starting to fade.

But behind the scenes, what should have been a marriage made in heaven continues to be blighted by the insistence of the Belgian government--and Belgian trade unions--on interfering in airline affairs.

The impact of the SAirGroup, Swissair's parent company, can be seen in virtually every department as Sabena celebrates its 75th anniversary year. The airline's president and CEO is a no-nonsense Swissair professional, Paul Reutlinger, who started his commercial apprenticeship in Zurich at age 16 in 1959, and who was Swissair's VP-marketing before going to Brussels in 1996. The CFO is Swiss and the board of directors consists of six Belgian members, and five from SAir. …

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