The Swiss air force is getting ready to launch an around-the-clock air policing operation. It was criticised as an office-hours only air force when it failed to intervene in a hijacking case involving an Ethiopian airliner two years ago. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)
On several occasions in the past when Swiss air space was breached, the Swiss air force was unable to act because its pilots were off duty. That was the case in February 2014 when an Ethiopian Airlines pilot took full control of his aircraft, while his co-pilot was in the toilet. The man diverted the flight, which was on route from Addis Ababa to Rome, and landed in Geneva. Two hundred passengers and crew were on board at the time. The man alerted the authorities about the change of course and his intention to claim political asylum. He gave himself up upon landing and was arrested.
The incident exposed a hole in Swiss air security. Fighter jets couldn’t be sent to intercept the plane since the air force wasn’t set up to police the Swiss skies outside of office hours. Instead, two Italian jets were called upon to accompany the plane.
But that is about to change. As of this year, the Swiss air force is extending its operations so that by 2020 two armed fighter jets will be ready to fly missions at any time.