Military Aviation

7 years after it was unable to scramble fighter jets to respond to a hijacking outside of business hours, Switzerland starts to provide 24 hours airspace protection

Starting from Dec. 31, 2020 two Swiss Air Force F/A-18 fighter jets will be operational 24/7 to protect the airspace over the country.

Switzerland will get round-the-clock airspace protection starting from Dec. 31, 2020, the armed forces said in a statement on Tuesday.

Nearly seven years after the country was unable to scramble fighter jets to respond to a hijacking outside of business hours, two Swiss Air Force F/A-18 fighter jets will be operational 24/7 to protect the airspace over the country.

“From now on, the air police service will be on call 24 hours a day to guarantee the security and the sovereignty over Swiss airspace,” the statement said.

As reported by France 24, the Swiss parliament proposed the plan to increase the country’s airspace surveillance in 2009, but it was boosted by an incident five years later that cast a spotlight on the lack of 24 hours airspace protection.

In February 2014, Hailemedehin Abera Tagegn, an Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot, hijacked his own plane, carrying 202 passengers and crew from Addis Ababa to Rome, and forced it to land in Geneva.

Italian and French fighter jets were scrambled to escort the plane through their respective airspaces after Tagegn locked himself in the cockpit while the pilot went to the bathroom.

Switzerland’s F/A-18 Hornet and F-5 Tiger fighter jets remained on the ground although the co-pilot-turned-hijacker quickly announced he wanted to land the plane in Switzerland, where he later said he aimed to seek asylum.

The Swiss Air Force explained at the time that this was because its planes were only available during office hours.

Following the embarrassing incident, the Swiss parliament set a plan in motion to gradually scale up the airspace protection, with the aim of eventually ensuring that two fighter jets be constantly on call and capable of taking off with 15 minutes’ notice.

The plan “has successfully been completed within the expected timeframe,” Tuesday’s statement said.

As we have already reported, on Sep. 27, 2020 Switzerland voters backed the government’s plan to spend up to 6 billion Swiss francs ($6.46 billion) on new fighter jets in a surprisingly close referendum that was won with a 50.1% majority.

Approving funding in the binding referendum would let the government decide next year which fighter to purchase.

In June 2019 the Swiss Air Force ended the evaluation for the five types of combat aircraft shortlisted (Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, the Lockheed Martin F-35A and the Saab Gripen E) under the Air2030 program to replace its ageing fleet of F-5 fighter jets, and older model F/A-18C/D fighters.

As we have previously reported Saab has withdrawn from Air2030 program just days before the company’s Gripen E was due to arrive in the country for flight evaluations.

In a terse communique issued Jun. 13, 2019 Saab said it had been “formally recommended” by the Swiss national armaments agency, Armasuisse, not to participate in the flight trials.

Hence the remaining lineup of contenders are the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Airbus Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale and the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II.

New jets are to be delivered by 2025.

Switzerland had initially chosen the Saab Gripen E fighter but had to cancel that order after a 2014 referendum rejected the choice.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 No. 29(R) Squadron, ZK308 / TP-V – 2014

Photo credit: Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, UK via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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