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skyguide: 75 years of air traffic control in Switzerland


Geneva, 30 December 2005. 75 years ago the Swiss Confederation transferred the entire responsibility for Swiss air traffic control to Radio Schweiz AG. With its new Air Navigation Service Centre Zurich, skyguide is now returning to Dübendorf airport where the history of air traffic control in Switzerland began in 1931.

Air traffic control had modest beginnings in Switzerland. On 1 January 1931 the Federal Air Office gave Radio Schweiz AG, the public wireless telegraphy and telephony company based in Berne, sole responsibility for air traffic control. At Dübendorf airport, where the Swiss air radio centre was located, the seven air traffic controllers were responsible for managing an average of twelve flight movements a day. These pioneering staff became famous when they provided radio communications up to a height of 16,500 metres during Auguste Piccard’s stratospheric flight in 1932.

By the end of the Second World War the number of employees had reached 47 and the rapid growth of air transport was beginning. The Swiss air navigation services had to keep pace with these developments. New technologies were developed to accommodate the constant growth in air traffic, and increasing numbers of staff were trained and deployed.

5 bhp and unlimited progress
After two years of planning, Radio Schweiz AG left Dübendorf and moved to Zurich-Kloten, where a new international airport had been built. As part of the move, the first company vehicle was purchased: an Austin van with a 5 bhp engine. By this time 200 people were working in air navigation services. The head of American air traffic control had very positive things to say about the reliability of the service we provided, as the company’s history proudly records.

The growth of air traffic and the technical developments continued apace. The 1949 annual report mentions that, for this reason, it was very difficult to decide whether to introduce costly innovations “which today are regarded as significant improvements but may already be obsolete by tomorrow”. However, it was not advisable to exercise too much restraint in this respect, because the safety of air traffic was of considerable importance: a statement that is as true today as it was then.

The arrival of the jet and more than 650 employees
The start of the jet age posed major challenges for the air navigation services. The 1956 annual report refers to preparations for “managing double the volume of traffic that we do today”. The rapid developments in the years that followed are clearly demonstrated by the number of air traffic control employees at Radio Schweiz AG, which grew from 300 to over 650 people between 1960 and 1970.

The boom in air transport was matched by a growth in public interest in air traffic control. The exhibition at the Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne, which was opened in 1978 and has been constantly updated since, gives a vivid insight into the work of the air navigation services.

From Berne to Geneva and a new name
1988 marked the end of the venerable Radio Schweiz AG company. Its structure, which had grown organically over the years, and its portfolio of services, which ranged from ship radio to air traffic control, had become outdated. From then on the air traffic control employees worked for swisscontrol, the Swiss air navigation services company ltd.

Eight years later the next important chapter began. On 1 January 1996 swisscontrol achieved financial independence from the Swiss Confederation and transferred its head office from Berne to Geneva, where it moved into a new building at the airport in 1998.

In 2001 the air navigation service took another important, forward-looking step, which was also linked to a change of name. With the integration of civil and military air traffic control, swisscontrol became skyguide.

Many things have changed since the Swiss Confederation handed responsibility for air traffic control to Radio Schweiz AG in 1931. Skyguide, which has its headquarters in Geneva, now employs around 1400 people at eleven different locations. The Swiss air navigation services are developing a new air traffic control centre at the place where everything began in such a pioneering spirit 75 years ago. Staff have gradually been moving into the new Air Navigation Service Centre Zurich in Wangen near Dübendorf since the autumn of 2005, and the centre is expected to be fully operational by 2008.

Skyguide is responsible for the provision of air navigation services within Swiss airspace and in the airspace of certain adjoining regions in neighbouring countries. Skyguide is a non-profit, limited company under private law. The majority of its shares are held by the Swiss Confederation. The annual turnover of the company exceeds 365 million Swiss francs. Skyguide employs some 1400 people at 11 locations in Switzerland.


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