VIA chairmen forced to leave early

The supervisory board of Vienna International Airport (VIA) has decided to remove all three co-chiefs from power.The panel agreed in a 14-hour-long meeting yesterday (Weds) to lay off Herbert Kaufmann by the end of this month. Gerhard Schmid and Ernest Gabmann will leave Flughafen Wien AG, the company managing Austria’s biggest airport, next year.The trio have been blamed for the massive cost overruns which occurred in the building of a new terminal called Skylink. Construction of the terminal started five years ago. The initial target was to put Skylink into operation ahead of the 2008 European Football Championship. Activities were, however, halted for almost a year when reports by Austrian media revealed in 2009 that costs may surpass 900 million Euros instead of the initially announced 400 million Euros.The supervisory board was expected to sack Kaufmann last month but eventually agreed in an eight-hour summit to negotiate the issue again in some weeks time.Supervisory board head Christoph Herbst announced last night that he will take over as VIA chief until the end of next year, when the post will be tendered. The lawyer explained that the plan was to find two internationally experienced businessmen to head the airport which registered more than 14 million passengers between January and September. Herbst made a name for himself last year by representing the victims of incest rapist Josef Fritzl in court.Flughafen Wien AG has been considered a plaything for the provincial parliaments of Vienna and Lower Austria which both hold a 20 per cent interest in the company quoted on the Vienna Stock Exchange (WBAG).Opposition party leaders were infuriated last year when the contracts of Kaufmann, Schmid and Gabmann were extended for another five years. Especially Kaufmann, who has links to the Viennese Social Democrats (SPÖ), has been blamed for the troubles in building Skylink, an issue already regarded as one of the biggest business scandals in the history of Austria. A Federal Audit Office (RH) report presented earlier this year said the project was badly organised from the start. State prosecutors have been investigating several companies previously assigned to build the terminal.Herbst, a close ally of Lower Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Governor Erwin Pröll, said yesterday that Kaufmann will not call for millions of Euros in compensation for his early removal from office but receive 350,000 Euros which is around how much he earned each year. Skylink will start operating in 2012, according to a recent announcement by the new VIA boss.