Swiss regional carrier Darwin Airline has formally complained to the country’s Competition Commission (COMCO), alleging abusive and anti-competitive behaviour by Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS).
Early this year, Darwin announced it had reached an agreement with Etihad Airways for the rapidly expanding Abu Dhabi-based carrier to take a 33.3 per cent stake in Darwin, subject to regulatory approval. Under a commercial agreement with Etihad, Darwin was rebranded as Etihad Regional. Darwin has now alleged to COMCO that SWISS has responded to the agreement with a series of anti-competitive actions aimed at forcing Darwin out of the Swiss market.
SWISS is part of the Lufthansa Group, which has been vocal in its opposition to the increasing inroads being made into European markets by the three major Gulf carriers—Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways.
Darwin has alleged that SWISS’s actions have included:
- terminating, with no valid reason, the wet lease by SWISS of Darwin aircraft, which Darwin operated on behalf of the Swiss national carrier on the domestic Zurich-Lugano route for almost 10 years;
- replacing Darwin’s aircraft with larger aircraft from Tyrolean Airways, a wholly owned subsidiary of Austrian Airlines that uses non-SWISS aircraft on SWISS domestic routes;
- ending a standard IATA interline agreement between Darwin and SWISS. Terminating this agreement makes it more burdensome for Darwin’s passengers and their baggage to connect between airlines;
- canceling an agreement for accommodating Darwin passengers in the event of flight disruptions;
- targeting the Darwin route network and launching new routes replicating those of Darwin, many of which previously had not been operated by SWISS.
“We are strong believers in fair competition and we cannot accept to be driven out of the market through predatory measures, which are clearly adopted as an attempt to weaken and damage our company rather than to fulfill the commercial logic of our competitor,” Darwin CEO Maurizio Merlo said. “We believe that these actions deserve to be examined in more detail by the Swiss Competition Authority.”
He said SWISS was going to extraordinary lengths to put pressure on Darwin on routes where the current seat capacity cannot be filled.
The Swiss aviation regulator has been seeking clarification for some months on aspects of Etihad’s interest in Darwin, seeking to ensure that the Lugano-based regional is not effectively under the Arab carrier’s control.