Swiss beef up air safety

Swiss aviation safety is at a crossroads Keystone

The Swiss authorities have announced they will hire an extra 60 aviation specialists to improve safety in Switzerland’s skies.

This content was published on February 25, 2004 - 17:18

The move comes amid a shake-up of the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA) and follows calls for an overhaul of air safety mechanisms in Switzerland.

Transport minister Moritz Leuenberger said on Wednesday that the government was responding to serious criticisms of the civil aviation office in the wake of a series of accidents.

The new appointments are just one of a number of recommendations made by a Dutch institute, which was commissioned by the Swiss government to review air safety.

This followed the Überlingen air disaster in July 2002 when two jets collided in Swiss-controlled airspace over southern Germany, killing 71 people.

On Tuesday an air traffic controller on duty at the time of the crash was stabbed to death at his Zurich home. Police are investigating a possible link between the two incidents.

Safety review

The report concluded that air safety levels in Switzerland, although extremely good, had been declining at the same time as they were improving in other western European nations.

“Our aim is to climb back to the top of those countries with the safest civil aviation,” said Leuenberger.

The study’s authors called for a national air safety policy and increased resources, as well as a reorganisation of the bodies overseeing air safety in order to improve their efficiency.

The first casualty of the report was FOCA’s director, André Auer, who departed during the summer. His successor, Raymond Cron, was named in December but has yet to start work.

Separation of tasks

As part of the “Topas” (Topping Aviation Safety) project, policy and safety will also be separated within the FOCA.

The Dutch report criticised the fact that the same people were responsible for policy and safety, adding that working methods were out of date and inefficient.

The authors said this was borne out by the fact that more than 100 people had died in three major accidents since 2000.

According to the transport minister, the new organisational structure of the FOCA would reflect the latest advances in aviation safety.

Four new departments at the FOCA, dealing with aircraft, operations, infrastructures, and safety and risk management, will oversee aviation safety in the future.

The FOCA will also modify its work methods. Instead of carrying out spot checks, it will be expected undertake a systematic surveillance of Switzerland’s aviation sector.

Max Friedli, the FOCA’s interim head, had appealed for more staff just over a week ago.

The transport ministry had been hoping to take on 80 air safety specialists, but it will have to settle for just 60 in two batches.

Safety checks

The FOCA has already undertaken a review of smaller Swiss airports such as Bern and Lugano. For years, inspectors failed to check all aspects related to operations at these airfields, possibly compromising security.

Officials admitted last August that international standards were not being upheld in Lugano.

According to Daniel Göring, spokesman for the FOCA, the changes should be completed by the beginning of next year.

“We will start hiring people as soon as parliament approves the extra SFr11.5 million ($9.3 million) credit,” he told swissinfo.

Part of the costs will be funded by the transport ministry from its own budget, while airport taxes will also be raised.

Leuenberger admitted that the additional costs could penalise Swiss airports’ competitiveness, but he said that safety was paramount.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The transport ministry is to hire 60 aviation specialists as part of its revamp of air safety.
The new positions will cost an extra SFr11.5 million.
The additional staff for the FOCA is one response to recommendations made by Dutch aviation experts.

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In brief

Recent Swiss aviation crashes:

November 1990: an Alitalia DC-9 jet collides with a hill as it approaches Zurich airport, killing all 46 people aboard.

September 1998: a Swissair MD-11 crashes into the Atlantic Ocean off the Canadian coast, killing 229 people in Switzerland's worst aviation disaster.

January 2000: a Crossair Saab turboprop crashes shortly after take-off from Zurich airport. All ten people aboard die.

November 2001: a Crossair Jumbolino jet hits a hill near Zurich airport, killing 24. Nine people survive.

July 2002: a Russian passenger jet and a DHL cargo plane collide over southern Germany in Swiss-controlled airspace, killing 71 people, including 45 children and teenagers.

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