A referendum to be held on 26APR20 will decide the ultimate fate of Lugano Airport in Switzerland. Given that all 77 airport employees received a provisional termination letter this week, informing them of the end of their employment on 30APR20 should the Tessin people vote against continued airport funding, the outcome seems clear: Lugano Airport will file for bankruptcy and close, bringing over 80 years of air travel in the region to a close.
The boutique airport which welcomed some 180,000 passengers/year and 88 tons/year of cargo in its heyday, is located just 4km outside Lugano, Switzerland, and around 80 km north of Milan, Italy. Managed by Lugano Airport SA, and owned by the City of Lugano (87.5%) and the Tessin Canton (12.5%)*, it used to headquarter Darwin Airlines (a subsidiary of Adria Airways, and – in part Etihad), until the airline went bankrupt in 2017, and Lugano Airport’s financial problems began. Rapidly declining volumes and the subsequent Adria Airways insolvency in 2019, means that the poor 2018 yearly figures of just under 100,000 passengers and 45tons of freight will have plummeted even further in 2019. Not least, because Swiss, on whose behalf Adria had been flying as a code-share to Lugano, then also decided to move their passenger traffic from “Flugzeug” (aircraft) to “Flugzug” (play on words, meaning “air-train”), between Zurich and Lugano in SEP19.
Cargo = cargone…
Swiss World Cargo (SWC) terminated cargo operations at Lugano at the same time. A SWC spokesperson gave CFG the following statement: “Swiss WorldCargo no longer operates services connecting Zurich and Lugano. Previously, our local ground handler was Cargologic. In the future, we hope to continue to support our customers in Switzerland's Ticino region through our dedicated hubs in Zurich and Geneva.”
A spokesperson from Lufthansa Cargo confirmed that its sporadic road feeder service to Lugano had been terminated with the end of JAN20, stating that regional customers generally tend to look to nearby Italy for cargo service solutions.
Lugano’s main ground-handler, Cargologic, which numbers Lugano amongst its four Swiss locations, was unavailable for comment as to what this means for its staff there. In total, Cargologic employs over 600 people, and handles 500,000 tons per annum, so the Lugano location will have meant at most between 5-10% of its business.
Basta milioni per l’aeroporto! (No more millions for the airport)
It was the Swiss leftist parties, PS, Verdi del Ticino, PC and MP who, in JAN20, already collected 8,372 signatures in favor of holding the referendum against more cantonal credit being granted to Lugano-Agno airport. The PS website explains: “We want to prevent millions more of public money from being wasted in this way. The people will then be able to have their say on this, calling for more sensible investments not only in the market, but always towards more environmental and social sustainability: “We are against investing a further CHF 9.6 million (5.76 million from the City, 3.84 million from the Canton) in addition to the CHF 40 million of public money already paid from 2006 to 2018, for a structure that accumulates only debts. Competition from railways and the nearby international terminals has made the Lugano-Agno airport obsolete. The facts prove it: the death of scheduled flights is merciless, no more flights from Agno!” They call for a social plan for the current employees, and for investments in more sustainable mobility.
Hope dies last
Lugano Airport’s Board of Directors and the management of Lugano Airport, when informing their employees of the decision to provisionally terminate their contracts during a closed-door meeting held shortly, which was also attended by trade unions, explained that this was “a necessary step to comply with the dictates of the law. However, the termination will be considered null and void if the outcome of the two popular votes** is in favor of the airport.”
The result on 26APR20 will tell…
*As per Lugano Airport’s own website 15FEB20, though on 04SEP19, www.ticino-politica.ch reports that the Canton’s share was due to increase from 12.5% to 40%.
**In fact, the referendum is a double one: one on cantonal and one on municipal level.
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