In Switzerland, a rare closure of the airspace due to a computer error – Liberation

For three hours on Wednesday, Swiss airspace was completely closed. Blame it on a computer failure that affects the country’s air traffic control. If traffic resumes late in the morning, the consequences will remain noticeable for several days.

A total closure of Swiss airspace? Even in times of war in Europe, the news would seem absurd, as the country, famous for its political neutrality, has never made such a decision. And yet, that’s what Swiss airports announced Wednesday morning. And it was not a question of geopolitical considerations, but of a major computer failure that hit the company responsible for air traffic control in the country. For three hours, no flight could take off or land in the Alpine country until a complete resumption of traffic was announced at 10 p.m.

“Due to a system error with Skyguide, no takeoffs or landings are currently possible.” This message, which was sent around 7am on Zurich Airport’s Twitter account, left many travelers in despair. “We have a plane at 10 o’clock, shall we wait at home?” asks a user. “I hope the travelers will be compensated”, worries another. But all morning, passengers and air traffic controllers remained in the dark. This is a computer error of magnitude that affects Skyguide, the company that has a monopoly on air traffic control in Switzerland.

The Swiss sky was therefore completely closed this morning for safety reasons. Any overflight of the Confederacy was banned while planes already on their way were forced to see their routes diverted to a third country. According to the Swiss news agency ATS-Keystone, most of them were referred to northern Italy.

Difficulty obtaining information from airports

The normal life at Swiss airports therefore seemed to be suspended in time for several hours. The Swiss airports in Geneva and Zurich remained open and passengers could continue to check in, but boarding was closed. Many passengers complained about difficulties in obtaining information from airports, while the latter encouraged them to inquire directly with their airlines. Meanwhile, the crowded entrances were constantly filled with the flow of travelers. According to the newspaper timethey were more than 2,000, in Geneva, waiting for their plane from the first wave of departure from 1 p.m.

A few hours later, Skyguide announced the reopening of the airspace and the resumption of the shift, without, however, specifying the cause of the encountered error. “The technical problem with Skyguide has been resolved and the airspace closure was lifted at 8:30. Swiss airspace has reopened and flight operations over Switzerland as well as at Geneva airports and Zurich are resumed,” wrote the company in a tweet. The first plane to leave, from British Airways, then took off around 1 p.m. 9:30, soon followed by others. But according to the medium RTS, the ballet is far from returning to normal: “Starter will be two to four hours late.” Traffic thus resumed initially with 50% of its capacity before rising to 75% and then 100% from the end of the morning. “Several flights have been canceled. Travelers are asked to check with their company whether their flights are being maintained.therefore, Geneva airport tweeted after resuming connections.

A malfunction that will continue to weigh down

The technical collapse had a clear impact on air traffic outside the Federation’s borders. With good reason, Zurich Airport is one of the largest hubs in Europe, while the smaller airport in Geneva exceeds one million passengers every month. Every day, about 3,500 planes fly over the territory. The economic consequences of this judgment are therefore likely to be felt. Thomas Hurter, pilot and deputy for the canton of Schaffhausen, explains in the columns of Morning : “If the system does not work 100%, it must of course be stopped. But it will cost millions of francs. ”

If the entire Swiss airspace was affected by the Skyguide interruption, it is because the company, more than 99% owned by the Swiss Confederation, is responsible for everything in the country. Skyguide had already been designated for IT bugs in 2019 and 2022. The outsourcing of part of its IT administration services to Bulgaria had been designated. But these previous incidents had no direct consequences for air traffic, and there is currently no indication that this could be an explanatory factor for the error this Wednesday morning.

In a statement, the company, which is celebrating 100 years of air traffic control in Switzerland this year, said it regrets the incident and “its implications for its customers, partners and passengers at Geneva and Zurich airports”.However, it will take several days before traffic returns to normal and the scheduled flight program may still experience some disruption.

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