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Air 04 takes off in Payerne

The Patrouille Suisse blazes a trail (defence ministry)

Switzerland has hosted its first major air show since 1994, featuring breathtaking aerobatic displays over the Swiss countryside.

Up to 275,000 spectators attended Air 04, which took place over the weekend at the Payerne airbase in western Switzerland.

Orgnanisers say the air show got off to a good start with 120,000 spectators on Saturday alone.

The event was an opportunity for foreign manufacturers to show off their fighter aircraft, in the hope that they will be chosen to replace Switzerland’s ageing fleet of Tiger jets.

“This is the most important air show organised in Switzerland at the start of the 21st century,” said the event’s director, Ian Logan.

“It’s been an enormous challenge but we’re sure that it’s an event visitors won’t soon forget,” he added.

Before the show, the organisers said they would be taking all necessary security precautions to ensure the safety of both participants and spectators.

"All current European safety norms will be applied... the axis used for flying demonstrations will not be directly above the spectators."

Fancy flying

The spectacle marked three of the nation’s military milestones: 90 years of the Swiss air force, the 40th anniversary of the Patrouille Suisse aerobatic team, and the 15th anniversary of the country’s PC-7 aerobatics and training team.

It was the largest military air show to take place in Switzerland in the past decade and one of the three largest in Europe this year.

One of the highlights was the sight of the Swiss aerobatic team flying in formation with foreign squadrons from Britain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid described the participation of foreign squadrons as “a symbol of essential international cooperation”.

Military might

In total, 160 aircraft, including Swiss-made Pilatus turbojets and American fighter jets, were used in displays both in the air and on the ground.

Other hi-tech planes – including the French Mirage 2000 and the British Harrier, which is capable of vertical take-offs and landings – were also on show.

Fans of vintage flying machines were pleased to see the appearance of the legendary Breitling Super Constellation, a propeller-driven long haul carrier, which marked the start of commercial transatlantic flights in the 1940s.

But the event’s chief spokesman, Didier Vallon, pointed out that the show was about more than just fancy flying.

“Air 04 represents a rare opportunity for us to show our appreciation of the Swiss population’s trust in the air force,” said Vallon.

He added that while the event aimed to dazzle spectators, it was also designed to demonstrate Switzerland’s military know-how and tools.

“Military aviation guarantees security, provides assistance and protects the country’s population,” said Vallon. “And in a constantly changing world, it’s important that we be both seen and heard.”

Terrorism

The country’s armed forces are currently undergoing their most radical overhaul since the Second World War, including major personnel and defence spending cutbacks.

According to air force chief Hansrüdi Fehrlin, these reforms – as well as the growing threat of terrorism – underscore the military’s role in ensuring security.

“Our resources are continuing to dry up… so we’re working towards streamlining our activities,” said Fehrlin.

“But the September 11 [2001] attacks in the US showed, in a frightening way, that anything can happen,” he added. “Since then, protecting the sovereignty and security of Swiss air space has become our biggest priority.”

swissinfo, Anna Nelson

Key facts

Air show organisers say they put strict safety measures in place.
The axis used for flying demonstrations was not directly above the spectators.
Emergency services - including first aid posts, medical staff and air rescue teams - were on standby throughout the event.

end of infobox

In brief

Up to 275,000 spectators turned out for Air 04 in the western Swiss town of Payerne this weekend.

It was the largest air show to be held in Switzerland since 1994.

At least 160 aircraft from 17 nations took part in the displays both in the air and on the ground.

The organisers dazzled spectators with breathtaking aerobatics and showed off the air force’s military know-how.

end of infobox


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