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Skyguide says cuts will not compromise safety

A Skyguide air traffic controller monitors a radar screen at Zurich airport Keystone

Switzerland’s air traffic control agency, Skyguide, which has come under fire over safety standards, has announced plans to save SFr15 million ($12 million) over the next three years.

This content was published on October 11, 2004 - 12:03

The agency said this would mean job losses and the abandonment of some projects, but it insisted that safety would not be compromised.

“That is an area which is not affected. On the contrary, we are investing in it. In the mid-term, we are even going to create jobs in the area of safety,” company spokesman Patrick Herr told Swiss radio.

Skyguide admitted earlier this year that it was partly to blame for a mid-air collision in 2002 between a Russian passenger plane and a cargo jet in Swiss-controlled airspace, which killed 71 people.

Only one air traffic controller was on duty at the time of the crash over the German town of Überlingen on Lake Constance.

He was stabbed to death in February outside his home near Zurich. The chief suspect – a Russian who lost his wife and two children in the crash – is currently being detained in a psychiatric unit.

Economy drive

Asked whether safety could be guaranteed in the context of the planned economy drive, Skyguide said people had to be realistic.

“No one can guarantee 100 per cent security. But we drew lessons from the Überlingen accident and made investments in security,” said Herr.

Guy Emmenegger, the chairman of Skyguide, said the agency had been forced to take action after the Swiss government, the company’s major stakeholder, ordered it to reduce costs and lower tariffs.

Emmenegger said in an interview in the “SonntagsZeitung” that the cost-cutting plan would require an “enormous effort”.

“What is clear is that the post of air traffic control assistant will be cut… this could lead to a few redundancies,” he said.

Automated

Spokesman Patrick Herr explained that the assistants essentially played a coordinating role that would be automated in the future.

However, he would not say how many assistants were employed by Skyguide and how many might be affected by the cuts.

Emmenegger, who took over as chairman in June, explained that Skyguide was having to save costs at the same time as controlling air space in parts of neighbouring Germany, Austria and Italy without payment.

“Transport minister Moritz Leuenberger has promised that negotiations over payment will be pushed forward. But that does not happen overnight,” he said.

Skyguide’s work for the three countries is valued at SFr36 million, but Emmenegger believes it is “unrealistic” to think that the company could be paid in full.

State funds

In a recent report on air traffic policy, Leuenberger held out the prospect of state funds for Skyguide.

“It [the government] would take over costs that have nothing to do with flight safety as such – so-called regulatory costs,” said Emmenegger.

“[This would include], for example, the contribution to the European air safety organisation, Eurocontrol, which cost us around SFr15 million in 2003. Parliament will make a decision on the funding in December,” he explained.

Emmenegger added that Skyguide would probably lower its tariffs from 2005. He said the agency, which is a non-profit stock company, made a surplus last year and had to pass this on.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Skyguide has some of the most expensive approach fees in Europe.
This is because the air traffic control agency provides some services which do not cover its costs. It also receives no payment for services provided for foreign air space delegated to its control.
It is regarded as the most productive supplier of air safety control services in Europe.
Skyguide levies standard fees and charges at all airports, based solely on the weight of the aircraft.

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In brief

Skyguide is responsible for air traffic control in Switzerland and in parts of neighbouring countries.

It is a non-profit stock company, majority owned by the government.

The company had a turnover of SFr340 million in 2003 and employs 1,400 people at 11 locations in Switzerland.

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