Spending cuts clip air force wings

The airbase of Sion hosted an international meeting of Tiger jets in 2005 Keystone Archive

Switzerland's air force is facing a haemorrhage of fighter jet pilots amid increasing criticism about working conditions and pay.

This content was published on September 2, 2007 minutes

It comes as the air force is undergoing a re-organisation and amid continuing public protests over noise pollution from military airports.

The air force currently has 40 professional pilots for its F/A 18 fighter jets and looks set to lose another four staff who have handed in their notice, says air force spokesman Jürg Nussbaum.

Reports say the number might increase, amid growing discontent among pilots over working conditions, including cuts in fringe benefits and a harsh management style.

"The atmosphere has never been as bad as it is today," the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper quotes an unidentified member of the air force as saying.

Pilots also criticise delays in aircraft maintenance as a result of cuts in the number of ground staff, which are leading to a further reduction in flights.

Limited room

The closure of the Dübendorf airbase, outside Zurich, for fighter aircraft 20 months ago means that pilots are stationed on a rotating basis at the three remaining military airports in the Alps and in western Switzerland.

The air force acknowledges that the high turnover of pilots who left to work for commercial airlines could be the result of discontent in the air force.

But spokesman Nussbaum says there is very limited room for manoeuvre.

"The politicians wanted spending cuts and we have to implement them," he told swissinfo.

The Swiss air force plans to cut fighter flights in and out of the country's main airbases by 2010, practically halving them to 25,000.

He adds that for the first time in several years civilian air transport companies are hiring new staff.

Nussbaum says the air force could still fulfil its mandate to patrol Swiss airspace during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in January or the European football championships next June.

"We are now training more pilots to fly fighter aircraft," said Nussbaum.

Noise pollution

There is growing public opposition in the towns of Sion, Payerne and Meiringen against moves by the defence ministry to relocate the F/A 18 squadrons owing to noise pollution.

Last week head of the armed forces Christophe Keckeis announced a reduction in the number of flights at Payerne, prompting fears among the civilian population of an increase in the number of flights at the other airbases.

Moves are underway in parliament to re-open two of the airbases closed as part of a reform of the armed forces.

swissinfo, Urs Geiser

In brief

The Swiss air force plans to cut fighter flights in and out of the country's main airbases by 2010, slashing them from over 50,000 today to around 25,000.

Swiss fighter jets can only operate during the working week, from 8am until the end of the afternoon. Night flights can only take place once a week.

Supersonic flights are not allowed below an altitude of 10,000 metres, and only 300 take place in Switzerland every year as many training flights now happen outside the country.

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Key facts

Swiss air force

33 F/A18 aircraft
85 Tiger 5E and 5F aircraft
38 PC-7 training aircraft
11 PC-9 turboprop
16 PC-6 Pilatus Porter transport aircraft
15 Super Puma transport helicopters
70 Alouette III transport helicopters

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