Bodewig urges restraint in public criticism of Skyguide

Skyguide has faced criticism over its role in last week's collision of two jets in Swiss airspace Keystone Archive

The German transport minister, Kurt Bodewig, has urged restraint following public criticism of the Swiss air traffic control body, Skyguide.

This content was published on July 10, 2002 - 22:27

On Wednesday, Bodewig said it would be dangerous to jump to conclusions as to who was responsible for last week's collision between a Russian passenger jet and a cargo plane in Swiss airspace before a full investigation had been completed.

"Whatever the case may be, to put public pressure [on Skyguide] is not good," Bodewig said in a newspaper interview.

His comments came after numerous revelations that Skyguide mishandled air traffic control operations on the night of the crash.

Officer on duty

The government-owned company admitted last week it had only one officer on duty in its Zurich control centre when the crash occurred. A second operator was away on break.

The Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation has since ordered Skyguide to maintain at least two officers on duty at all times.

The company has not explained why only one man was on duty at the time of the accident, which left 71 people dead, most of them children.

On Wednesday, the civil aviation office launched an official investigation into whether a set of guidelines - issued to the nation's air traffic controller last May - were being adhered to when the two planes crashed over southern Germany near the Swiss-German border.

Meanwhile, the right-wing Swiss People's Party has called for a full-scale parliamentary enquiry into the incident.

Contradictory instructions

The latest moves by Switzerland's civil aviation watchdog followed Monday's release of flight voice recorder information that the Swiss air traffic controller on duty unwittingly set the two planes on a collision course.

The recordings showed that the controller contradicted an instruction from the Russian jet's on-board computer - which had told the pilots to climb - by ordering them to descend.

The Russian pilots obeyed the controller and began to descend, not realising that the Boeing cargo jet was doing the same.

Investigators said the lone Swiss controller on duty was also battling with technical problems in the moments leading up to the crash.

Officials have revealed that Skyguide was working on its telephone and radar systems on the night of the crash and that the controller was having to simultaneously monitor two frequencies and two radar monitors.

Setting priorities

In light of the crash, Eurocontrol - the Brussels-based European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation - has announced it is placing "safety issues" at the top of the agenda at a meeting to be held on Friday.

In a statement, the organisation - which is made up of 31 member states, including Switzerland - said it would review all its security measures and draw up an action plan to be put into practice "with immediate effect".

"Everything we can possibly do to improve air safety will be done," commented the director of Eurocontrol, Victor Aguado.

The organisation said it would reform any aspect of air safety which might have "played a role, no matter how slight, in the chain of events leading to last week's accident".

Bodewig has called for the harmonisation of air traffic control across Europe.

"European air space is too small to be content with existing borders and national rules," he said.

The German transport minister also said he hoped Switzerland would join a European project, dubbed the "Single European Sky", which aims to create a set of common rules for air traffic control in all European Union countries, irrespective of national borders.

swissinfo with agencies

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