By 2020, the Swiss army will have two F/A-18 jets ready to take off, fully armed, within 15 minutes at any time of the day or night. The initiative follows a 2009 Senate motion to guarantee the availability of air police services.
The Swiss defence ministry announced Tuesday that the new project, dubbed PA24, is expected to create 100 new jobs and cost CHF30 million ($29 million) – mostly in employee salaries. The main air base will be the Payerne Airfield in the canton of Vaud.
The ministry stated that the air police service will have two main charges: to intercept aircraft that seriously violate traffic laws or the sovereignty of Swiss airspace, and to carefully monitor and control “diplomatic clearance” for aircraft from foreign states.
PA24 will be launched in four stages beginning in 2016, when the two jets will be made available Monday through Friday, from 8:00am to 6:00pm, 50 weeks of the year. By 2017, the planes will be available every day of the year, and by 2019, their standby window will be extended to 6:00am to 10:00pm. Finally, in 2020, the air policing service will be at the ready 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
In February 2014, the Swiss Air Force made international headlines when it failed to intervene in an incident that culminated in a hijackedexternal link plane landing in Geneva at 6:02am, because it occurred “outside of office hours”. In the end, Italian and French jets had to be summoned to escort the plane, which had been diverted from its original course from Addis Ababa to Rome by an Ethiopian Airlines pilot attempting to seek political asylum in Switzerland.
However, the PA24 project is not a response to the 2014 event. Rather, it follows a motion approved by the Senate in 2009, which allocated funds to the Air Force to guarantee the availability of police services outside normal working hours.
swissinfo.ch and agencies