Swiss airspace cut because of 'stressed' controllers

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The Independent Online

Holidaymakers face more delays this summer because Swiss air traffic controllers are reducing their airspace and the British Government is seeking to extend airport security measures, a move the airlines are opposing.

Holidaymakers face more delays this summer because Swiss air traffic controllers are reducing their airspace and the British Government is seeking to extend airport security measures, a move the airlines are opposing.

Flights to Europe are likely to be disrupted because Skyguide, Switzerland's air traffic control body, has cut the air space it monitors by 20 per cent, forcing diversions on some cross-Europe flights from Britain. Skyguide, which oversaw the two planes that crashed over southern Germany last week, killing 71 people, said the change had been made because its employees were suffering from excessive stress.

The investigation on the collision between a Boeing 757 cargo plane and the Russian Tupolev 154 passenger jet is focusing on the role played by air traffic controllers in Zurich and accident avoidance plans. An automatic warning system alerting controllers that two planes were on a collision course was switched off for routine maintenance. The Russian authorities have claimed that the TU-154 pilot was given less than 50 seconds to avoid the disaster.

The decision to reduce capacity is a clear sign that Skyguide has safety concerns.

This weekend is one of the busiest of the year for Zurich airport, with 65,000 passengers and 750 flights expected. And the measure coincides with the start of the summer holiday season across Europe.

British Airways said some flights to Italy could be affected. "A couple of Italian flights normally route through that piece of airspace ­ they were just re-routed," a BA spokesman said. "There are very, very, minor delays of no more than 20 minutes maximum." He stressed it was a fairly standard procedure in "hot spots" around Europe, adding that the Swiss airspace cut was only in place until 16 July and was confined mainly to the Zurich area. The operational impact on British Airways would be minimal, he added.

A spokesman for National Air Traffic Services(Nats) said Swiss airspace was not huge and the impact of the change on airlines flying across Europe was not yet clear.

But the central air traffic control authority in Belgium will have to find alternative routes for aircraft that would formerly have flown over Switzerland.

"It's essentially down to the central flow management unit in Brussels who issue slots for the airlines," said the Nats spokesman, adding: "It is very difficult to make any predictions at the moment. The airlines may feel it is better to re-route around Swiss airspace if they feel it is an unacceptable situation."

Meanwhile the airlines in Britain are expected to meet David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, this week to thrash out differences over new security measures they claim will add up to an hour to check-in times.

Mr Blunkett wants check-in staff to log each passenger's full name, home address, sex, passport number and expiry date, and amount of luggage they are putting in the hold. In many cases the information will have been collected already by travel agents, and airlines fear that confirming it at check-in could double the time taken to process passengers.

The Association of British Travel Agents said the proposals had been brought in with hardly any consultation and amounted to little more than window dressing. Consumers might see it as an infringement of civil liberties, a spokesman said.

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