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Switzerland faces shortage of air traffic controllers

Skyguide has doubled wages for first-year trainees from CHF2,000 to CHF4,000 a month © Keystone / Martial Trezzini

Swiss air navigation service provider Skyguide says it is struggling to recruit air traffic controllers, especially in French-speaking Switzerland. Only five people are starting training in September, although there are 16 posts to be filled.

“This is a general trend in Europe, but it is particularly pronounced in western Switzerland,” said Skyguide boss Alex Bristol on Thursday.

To make the job more attractive, Skyguide, which is celebrating 100 years of air traffic control in Switzerland this year, has doubled wages for first-year trainees from CHF2,000 ($2,100) to CHF4,000 a month.

Pierre-Etienne Lévêque, head of the Western Air Navigation Services Centre, said the lack of interest was sometimes due to an indifferent younger generation or language problems. The first year of training is completed in English in Dübendorf, just outside Zurich. The training is spread over almost three years.


Regarding the technical problem that affected Skyguide’s system on June 15 and led to the brief closure of Swiss airspace, Bristol said investigations were ongoing.

“But at this point it’s clear that the problem was caused by a switch with incorrect data,” he said, adding that it was definitely not a cyberattack. “We know what happened and how we have to proceed so that something like this doesn’t happen again.”

Bristol regretted the damage to the company’s image and the consequences for passengers, but he stressed that supervisors had reacted in an exemplary manner when they noticed an anomaly at 3.30am. “There was missing data in the flight schedules. Not knowing the extent of the problem, they did not hesitate to interrupt air traffic for safety reasons,” he said. Flights resumed at 8.30am.

He said the five-hour system outage had been annoying, but it had not had a major financial impact on Skyguide. The company lost revenue in connection with the disruption to air traffic, but it did not have to pay any financial compensation to the airlines.

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SWI – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Since 1999, has fulfilled the federal government’s mandate to distribute information about Switzerland internationally, supplementing the online offerings of the radio and television stations of the SBC. Today, the international service is directed above all at an international audience interested in Switzerland, as well as at Swiss citizens living abroad.
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