Swiss pilots grounded for not speaking English

Around 130 pilots have been grounded at regional airports in Switzerland due to their inability to speak English.

Swiss pilots grounded for not speaking English
File photo: Depositphotos
A new directive came into force on 20 June stating that all pilots taking off or landing at Swiss airports monitored by Skyguide must communicate to air traffic controllers exclusively in English, reports Swiss daily 20 Minutes
As a result, some 130 pilots at Sion airport have been unable to fly. Other regional airports including Les Éplatures and La Chaux-de-Fonds have also been affected. 
However, according to the paper the airport of Neuchâtel and other regional airports in the canton of Ticino have been granted an exemption by the Swiss federal aviation authority.
Exemptions can be given only if Skyguide is monitoring the airport on a behalf of a neighbouring country or it can delegate its services to a foreign company, or if the airport can prove that communicating in English compromises airport safety. 
The Swiss federal government approved the modification to the aviation law in August 2016 and it was passed in parliament the following year. In a press release at the time the Federal Council said imposing English as the only language in radio communications aimed to “eliminate the risk of misunderstandings”. 
Speaking to 20 Minutes, lawyer Pierre Moreillon, president of honour of umbrella body Aerosuisse, advised pilots to challenge the new directive in court, suggesting that it contravenes the Swiss constitution’s protection for national languages and also goes against international aviation law, which states pilots may use English and a local language.
In May this year a parliamentary transport commission lodged a motion demanding that the new directive be revised.
The directive does not apply to Geneva airport, reported 20 Minutes, since its cross-border location exempts it from Swiss federal law. 
Almost entirely owned by the Swiss confederation, Skyguide is regulated by Swiss aviation law. It employs nearly 2,000 people across 14 locations in Switzerland, handling air traffic control operations at Geneva and Zurich airports as well as several regional and military aerodromes. In 2018 it handled nearly 1.3 million flights across one of the most dense and complex airspaces in Europe.

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What’s the latest on air travel in Switzerland?

Spring is in the air and summer is only two weeks away. Thoughts of international trips are on many people’s minds, especially as air travel in Switzerland is taking off again after being grounded since March.

What's the latest on air travel in Switzerland?
Airlines will soon take off from Swiss airports. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

While Zurich and Geneva international airports have not yet seen the traffic — in terms of the number of flights and passengers — as it was before Covid-19, both are getting busier.

Some flights have already resumed their operations, while others are scheduled to take off later this month and in coming weeks, after Switzerland opens its borders with France and Germany on June 15th. 

European destinations that are already serviced from Zurich by SWISS airline include Amsterdam, Stockholm, Athens, Lisbon, London Heathrow, Berlin, and Porto. There is also one long-haul flight from Zurich to New York-Newark.

From Geneva, the European flights go to Athens, London Heathrow, Lisbon, and Porto.

READ MORE: Geneva Airport schedules tentative take-off for mid-June 

Starting from mid-June, Switzerland’s flagship airline will fly to inter-continental destinations, including New York (JFK), Chicago, Mumbai, Bangkok, Tokyo, Vancouver, Shanghai, and others.

All of Swiss’ destinations from Zurich and Geneva in the coming weeks are listed here

Swiss’ sister airline, Edelweiss, will also resume a number of flights from its Zurich hub.

Among the destinations scheduled for June are Antalya, Catania, Edinburgh, Faro, Ibiza, Larnaca, Palma de Mallorca, Pristina, Skopje, and Split. 

EasyJet too will resume some of its operations from Geneva on June 15th, with flights to Barcelona, Lisbon, Nice and Porto.

However, airlines are saying that flying in the post-coronavirus era will be a whole new ballgame.

Strict hygiene measures will start already at the airport. 

They may include temperature checks and possible ban on most hand luggage.

Inside the plane, waiting in front of the toilet on board may no longer be allowed.

Especially on short-haul flights, drinks and snacks will no longer be served, and duty-free sales on board may also be banned.

What about social distancing?

There has been much talk about airlines eliminating the middle seats, but neither SWISS nor Edelweiss have not committed to taking this drastic step in their Economy cabins, which would cause ticket prices to skyrocket. This applies to EasyJet as well.

However, SWISS is recommending that passengers wear masks on board until at least August 31st, and also use them at the airport before or after flights, “whenever sufficient social distancing cannot be adequately observed”.

As a reminder, the Federal Office of Public Health said that passengers seated in the same row as an infected person, or in the next two rows, are at risk of contamination, regardless of the duration of the flight.

But people who merely travelled on the same plane as a contaminated person, but were seated more than two rows in front of or behind, and had no other contact with that person, are in principle safe from infection.