Skyguide struggles to recruit new air traffic controllers

Skyguide struggles to recruit new air traffic controllers


Two air traffic controllers and a Skyguide supervisor are still on duty in the Geneva Airport control tower. KEYSTONE/MARTIAL TREZZINI sda-ats

This content was published on July 28, 2022 – 20:31

(Keystone-ATS)

Skyguide, which is celebrating 100 years of air navigation service in Switzerland this year, is struggling to recruit air traffic controllers, particularly in French-speaking Switzerland. They will be only five to start training in September while sixteen places are up for grabs.

This trend is general in Europe, but particularly marked in French-speaking Switzerland, noted Thursday in Geneva before the press Alex Bristol, director general of Skyguide. In the meantime, the company has significantly increased wages for apprentices (4,000 francs the first year against 2,000 francs previously).

Among the tracks put forward to explain this lack of enthusiasm: a generation Z not very interested or a language problem, according to Pierre-Etienne Lévêque, head of the western air traffic control center. The first year of training takes place at the center in Dübendorf (ZH) in English. The course is spread over nearly three years.

Candidates must be between 18 and 30 years old and have a high school diploma or a CFC. The job requires a logical mind and the ability to work in a team, explains Alex Bristol, who praises the variety of this profession.

no routine

Christian Eichenberger, 45, supervisor and air traffic controller for 23 years at Skyguide is not going to contradict him. Passionate about aviation since childhood, this Vaudois loves to settle down in his post in the lookout of the control tower at the edge of the tarmac. He never tires of aerial ballet: an average of 500 daily landings and take-offs to manage with his colleagues.

A certain routine sets in with meticulous procedures that allow the flow of aircraft to be sequenced, but you always have to be on the alert for the unexpected. The failure that affected the Skyguide system on June 15, requiring the closure of Swiss airspace, is still on everyone’s mind.

15’365 minutes late

Returning to this incident at the request of journalists, Alex Bristol explains that several investigations are still underway. At this stage, however, it is established that the problem was on a “switch with corrupted data”. It is also clear that there was no cyberattack, according to the director. “We know what happened and how to prevent it from happening again,” added Mr. Bristol.

The general manager deplores the damage to the company’s image and the consequences for passengers, but he stresses that the supervisors reacted perfectly when they noticed an anomaly at 3:30 am: data was missing from the flight plans. Not knowing the extent of the problem, they did not hesitate to interrupt air traffic as a matter of safety, notes Mr. Bristol.

While this system outage, which lasted five hours, was painful, it did not have a significant financial impact on Skyguide. The company lost revenue in connection with the interruption of air traffic, but it did not have to pay financial compensation to the airlines. The damage caused a total of 15,365 minutes of delay on the entire European network, while the daily average is 120,000, puts Mr. Bristol into perspective.

Rising

In Geneva, Skyguide supervised nearly 91,500 take-offs and landings of commercial flights, business jets and helicopters in 2021, i.e. 16.2% more than in 2020. The west control center had 378 ‘549 flights in transit over the territory under surveillance (+31.1%). A total of 699 people work at Skyguide’s headquarters in Geneva, including 58 controllers in the control tower and 120 to ensure flight operations in the airspace of western Switzerland.

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