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Swiss told to improve air safety

The Swiss have been asked to pay more attention to air safety standards Keystone

The government is taking steps to improve air safety after a report revealed that standards had slipped in recent years.

This content was published on July 2, 2003 - 16:50

The transport ministry has appointed a security expert to assist in drawing up a national aviation safety policy.

The independent report, carried out by a Dutch institute, was commissioned after the authorities were criticised in the wake of last year’s mid-air crash in Swiss-controlled airspace.

The collision between a Russian passenger plane and a cargo jet over Überlingen in southern Germany claimed the lives of 71 people, including 52 schoolchildren.

On Wednesday several hundred people took part in a memorial ceremony at the crash site near Lake Constance.

Speaking after the event, the relatives of those who died said they had yet to receive a formal apology from the Swiss and German authorities.

The accident was the latest in a series of tragedies to have struck Swiss civil aviation in the past five years.

Other incidents include the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off the coast of Canada in 1998 and two accidents near Zurich.

The report highlighted a series of shortcomings in aviation security.

“This study has shown that the lingering sense of perfection [in Switzerland] is no longer warranted in view of the safety performance over recent years,” wrote the report’s authors.

Safe to fly

The study concluded that while public air transport remained “extremely safe”, safety levels were declining in Switzerland at a time when they were improving in comparable European nations.

“Where Switzerland was clearly ahead of these states in terms of safety before the nineties, this lead has been lost,” said the report.

To reverse the negative trend, the report submitted a series of recommendations, including the implementation of a national air safety policy and more resources.

The study also called for structural changes at the bodies charged with overseeing air safety to increase their efficiency.

The Swiss transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, said on Tuesday that some of the recommendations were already being implemented, while others would be introduced in the near future.

The Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA) is expected to separate its safety monitoring activities from its other operations, and to increase surveillance of Skyguide, Switzerland’s air traffic control agency.

Safety review

However, Leuenberger said a complete overhaul of Swiss air safety mechanisms could take some time as it involved a major reorganisation of the FOCA, as well changes to federal law.

Former Basel City police chief Markus Mohler, who has been appointed by Leuenberger to draw up an action plan, said it was imperative that all the various agencies worked together.

“The biggest priority is to make an assessment of all the recommendations with regard to what has been done already,” he told swissinfo.

“The Federal Office for Civil Aviation and Skyguide have both [done a lot] in the past 12 months since the tragic accident last July in Überlingen.

“Now we have to come up with suggestions for what should be done most urgently next.”

Geneva and Zurich airports have been advised to improve their safety standards, and the national carrier, Swiss, is expected to revise its safety policy.

swissinfo, Scott Capper and Karin Kamp

In brief

The Swiss government is taking steps to improve air safety after a series of accidents over the past five years.

An independent report said that while Swiss civil air safety is good, standards have slipped in recent times, while other European countries have improved their own records.

The report called for the implementation of a national air security policy and more resources for safety.

The Swiss transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, said that some of proposed measures are being implemented now, others would take longer to bring into effect.

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