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Skyguide flying through turbulent skies

To what extent is Skyguide in control? Keystone

Embattled national air traffic control agency, Skyguide, will come under further scrutiny on Wednesday when it announces its 2005 financial results.

This content was published on April 19, 2006 - 07:56

Created in 2001, Skyguide was rocked by an air crash a year later, the related murder of a controller in 2004, questions over safety, and a government order to make substantial savings.

The agency was hit with further bad news in March this year, after its new centre in Geneva - set up to manage the Swiss segment of European high altitude air space - failed to gain government approval. As a result, 44 controllers had to be relocated back to Zurich at Skyguide's expense.

And earlier this month the Swiss Air Accident Investigation Bureau launched a scathing attack on the agency following a 20-minute computer blackout at its control centre in Zurich in 2003.

However, the agency disagreed with the report.

Skyguide will be hoping to post better results than 2004 when revenues swelled 6.4 per cent to SFr365.39 million ($286.57 million) thanks to a substantial increase in air traffic, but net profit fell to SFr11.22 million from SFr 14.76 million the previous year.

Profits were dented by a decision in 2004 to abandon the integration of an air traffic management system for safety reasons, costing the agency SFr25.73 million.

The 2005 results should shed further light on how Skyguide plans to meet government-imposed savings of SFr15 million by the end of 2007. The agency had previously warned of job cuts and the abandonment of some projects to meet these demands.

Pioneering fusion

Skyguide was born amid much fanfare in 2001 as a pioneering fusion of civil and military air traffic control.

But clouds descended on July 1, 2002, when a Russian passenger plane collided with a cargo jet over Swiss controlled airspace above Überlingen in southern Germany, killing 71 people.

Skyguide subsequently admitted partial responsibility and a relative of three victims took revenge on a controller on duty on the day of the accident by stabbing him to death at his home in Zurich in February 2004.

The agency has also had to pay out a reported compensation package of between $100,000 and $150,000 per victim.

An independent report into the Überlingen accident and a series of other crashes, for which Skyguide was not blamed, said air safety standards had dropped in Switzerland.

Skyguide has faced further problems after Switzerland and Germany failed to resolve a dispute concerning aircraft noise pollution over southern Germany in 2003.

Germany's night-time restrictions on aircraft approaching Switzerland's main airport of Zurich from the north led to the biggest ever shake-up of flight paths into the airport last year. Skyguide was forced to expend 32,000 man-hours on the project.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

In brief

The Swiss authorities handed responsibility for air traffic control to Radio Schweiz AG in 1931.

It changed its name to Swisscontrol in 1988, which in turn was renamed Skyguide when civilian and military air traffic control was merged in 2001.

Skyguide is a non-profit making limited company. The Swiss government owns more than 99% of the company's shares.

Skyguide is based in Geneva, but the new Air Navigation Service Centre Zurich should be fully operational in 2008.

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Key facts

Skyguide results 2004:
Net profit SFr11.22 million (SFr14.76 million 2003)
Operating revenue SFr365.39 million (SFr343.26 million in 2003)
Staff (full time equivalents) 1,326
Skyguide managed and monitored 1,104,716 flight movements in 2004, an increase of 2.5% on the previous year.

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