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Five things you need to know about Swiftair

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Five things you need to know about Swiftair
A Swiftair ATR 72 in Lanzarote in Spain's Canary Islands. Photo: Alec Wilson
17:00 CEST+02:00
The day after a plane owned by Spanish aviation firm Swiftair crashed in West Africa details of the Madrid-based company that leased the aircraft to Air Algérie are beginning to emerge. Here are five things we've learned so far.

Until just days ago, very few people had heard of Spanish carrier Swiftair. But the crash of one of the company's planes in Mali has changed all that.

While the company has kept its head down since issuing an initial statement on the plane and its six Spanish crew members, plenty of people in Spain have been digging for information about the small firm.

Here is what has emerged to date. 

The basics

Swiftair is a Madrid-based aviation company with around 400 staff which offers cargo and passenger flights in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Founded in 1986, they currently have a fleet of 45 planes including Boeing 727s and 737s, regional airliners ATR 72s, and 42s, and Mac Donnell Douglas MD-83 airplanes.

These aircraft are leased to commercial airlines including Iberia, Vueling and Air Europa. They have also been used by NATO.

The company's planes carried just under 20,000 passenger in Spain in 2013, according to Spain's Aena airports authority, in figures cited by El País newspaper.  

Swiftair's safety record

The Swiftair plane that crashed in West Africa on Thursday had recently been declared in "good condition" by French aviation authorities.

The airline has also been described as having a relatively clean bill of health, with the French air safety site securvol.fr ranking the company at 'B', where 'A' is the best grade.

France's Air France, by contrast, has a 'C' rating.

However, the firm has suffered several accidents in its 30-year-history.

In 2013, a Swiftair plane operated by Vueling was forced to make an emergency landing after an engine exploded soon after take-off.

Another 2012 incident, investigated by Spain's aviation authorities, saw a Swiftair plane suffer wing damage described as "substantial" while landing at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan.

But until Thursday Swiftair had only experience one other fatal accident. That occurred after one of their cargo planes crashed at Barcelona airport. The two pilots were killed.

Cost-cutting measures

Swiftair has come under fire for its wages policy from the Spanish pilots union Sepla.

The pilots earned just €842 ($1,100) a month before tax, Spain's La Vanguardia newspaper reported.

"Less than €12,000 a year, something unprecedented in the world of aviation," the union said in documents obtained by Spain's Europa Press news agency.

"The quality of air operations depends to a large degree on the working conditions offered to those who are responsible for the plane," the union said.

The airline was also criticized by Sepla for using trainee pilots as co-pilots.

Swiftair was using its cabins as "flight school" the union added. 

Swiftair and illegal migrants

Swiftair has worked together with Air Europa to deport African migrants from Morocco back to the countries they came from.

The company transported 2,017 would-be migrants in 2013 against 2,240 in 2012, earning €11.8 million ($15.8 million) for providing the service, according to Spain's La Información news site.

The Real Madrid connection

Real Madrid used a Swiftair McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft — the same model as the plane which crashed on Thursday — for the team's away games between 2007 and 2009.

Nicknamed 'La Saeta' (the arrow) after late Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano, team officials decided to stop using the plane when news broke that Swiftair was using its fleet to transport deported African immigrants back to their countries of origin. 

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