The Swiss Air Force, which this week has been ridiculed around the world because it only has intervention capability during office hours, will require more than 100 new personnel to be able to deploy fighter jets around the clock, says Defence Minister Ueli Maurer.
The upgrade would cost an additional CHF30 million ($34 million) a year, Maurer said on Wednesday. Swiss air traffic control company Skyguide would also have to make adjustments so that around-the-clock readiness is possible. This would be the case from 2018 at the earliest, he added.
The issue arose on Monday when a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane landed in Geneva at about 6am without the intervention of the Swiss Air Force. While Italian and French military aircraft were scrambled to accompany the plane, Switzerland was not able to deploy any jets because the air force’s offices were closed.
Because of budgetary constraints and noise restrictions, Switzerland’s air bases only operate 8am-12pm and 1.30pm-5pm – except on Monday nights when training exercises are held.
While the Swiss Air Force is off duty, Skyguide’s air traffic controllers – who do work around the clock – would act as intermediaries between hijackers and police negotiators.
Maurer, a member of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, explained that in the case of the recent hijacking, the Swiss Air Force would not have intervened anyway because it would not have been worthwhile for the short distance between French air space and Geneva.
The defence ministry had warned in the context of an upcoming vote on the purchase of new jets that by 2016 Switzerland would no longer be able to guarantee round-the-clock combat readiness with available aircraft.
swissinfo.ch and agencies