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Swiss spend millions to patrol skies outside office hours

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Swiss spend millions to patrol skies outside office hours
Two F/A 18 jets will be on standby at Payerne by 2020. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
11:00 CEST+02:00
The federal department of defence is to spend 1.3 million francs on buying a road that passes through the Swiss air force base in Payerne as part of a plan to police Swiss air space 24/7.

The road links the communes of Morens and Payerne on the Fribourg/Vaud cantonal border and is currently used by the public outside of the Swiss air force's normal working hours.

Buying it will allow the government to permanently close the road to the public and therefore ensure 24/7 security around the Payerne base with a view to extending its working hours.

The moves comes two years after the Swiss air force was subjected to international ridicule when it wasn't available to accompany a hijacked plane to Geneva airport.

The Ethiopian Airlines plane – hijacked by its own pilot who wanted to claim asylum in Switzerland – had to be accompanied to Geneva by Italian and French fighter jets because the incident occurred early in the morning, outside the normal working hours of the Swiss air force.

Currently those hours are 8am to 5pm with a 1.5 hour break for lunch at noon.

Speaking to AFP at the time, Swiss Air Force spokesman Laurent Savary blamed lack of budget and staffing.

“Switzerland cannot intervene because its airbases are closed at night and on the weekend,” he said.

In December the Swiss government launched a project to bring in 24/7 security to Swiss air space by 2020, aiming to have two armed F/A 18 jets ready to take off within 15 minutes at all times of the day and night.

That will require the creation of 100 jobs and an estimated budget of 30 million francs, said the government.

It also requires 24/7 security around Payerne airbase, where the two jets will be stationed.

“With the gradual introduction of a permanent air police service, the air force must be able to guarantee, if necessary, that fighter plans can ready themselves within 15 minutes,” the federal defence department said in a statement.

“That's why, in the future, the road linking Morens and Payerne must be able to be closed quickly so that the state of the runway can be checked.”

To avoid any security and safety issues, the government wants to permanently close the road by January 1st 2017.

The 1.3 million franc offer to the commune of Morens aims to compensate not only for the value of the road but also for the inconvenience to inhabitants, who will have to make a detour around the base.

 

NB: This article was amended on June 7th to correct the name of the airline from Egyptian to Ethiopian.

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