Und letzte Woche hat Herr Liwinski mit Hahn-Geschäftsführer Schumacher noch neue Strecken ab dem Flugplatz Hahn für 2005 angekündigt!

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Polish budget airline strands 53,000, rival to help

By Rob Strybel

WARSAW, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Poland's first budget airline Air Polonia has been grounded due to financial problems, stranding 53,000 passengers, its chairman said on Sunday.

But Jan Litwinski, who pioneered Air Polonia after leaving national Polish carrier LOT [LOT.UL], said he had ironed out a deal with another low-cost airline, Bratislava-based SkyEurope, to help most passengers reach their destinations.

"SkyEurope will provide flights for the roughly 53,000 passengers who have purchased Air Polonia tickets," he told a news conference in Warsaw, announcing a suspension of all flights.

Privately owned Air Polonia signed a partnership agreement with Italy's budget Volare Group in March, and in June Litwinski insisted the Polish carrier was in good financial shape.

But Volare was forced to ground its planes in November due to cash problems. Litwinski said his aircrafts' leases may lapse if Air Polonia fails to gain new financing.

SkyEurope, a pioneer no-frills airline which revolutionised air travel in the post-communist region that joined the European Union this year, said it had no plans to take over Polonia.

"We have no intention to take over Air Polonia, given its accumulated debts and liabilities," SkyEurope's chief Christian Mandl said in Warsaw. "We will however create job opportunities for some Air Polonia staff wishing to join SkyEurope."

The deal envisages Air Polonia passengers buying empty seats on SkyEurope flights for as little as one Polish grosz, or roughly a third of a U.S. cent, plus airport duties.

Air Polonia's grounding brought chaos at Warsaw airport with hundreds of passengers unable to fly to destinations like London, Rome and Stockholm. Not all managed to rebook with SkyEurope.

"We purchased tickets and now it looks like we may loose our money. Today there was not much more than confusion and a letdown," said Monika Krawcowna, who with her husband was due to fly to Brussels, a destination not served by SkyEurope.

Budget airlines, modelled on trailblazers Ryanair (RYA.I: Quote, Profile, Research) and easyJet (EZJ.L: Quote, Profile, Research) , have mushroomed in central Europe over the past year, taking advantage of market deregulation and fast-rising living standards by many of the EU's newcomers.

SkyEurope is backed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Fund and Dutch ABN AMRO Bank. (Additional reporting by Wojciech Moskwa)


(Reuters vom 5.12.2004)