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.