Swiss clock-punching air force relies on France for hijacked jet

Berlin: Want to invade Switzerland? Here's a tip: strike outside office hours.

After an Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise aircraft carrying 202 passengers and crew entered Swiss airspaceafter being hijacked by the co-pilot en route to Rome, Switzerland's Air Force remained on the ground. That's because the incident occurred outside normal office hours. Instead, French and Italian fighter jets escorted the Boeing 767 to a safe landing in Geneva.

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"You have a budget and you have to prioritise," said Swiss Air Force spokesman Juerg Nussbaum. While Switzerland monitors airspace around the clock, intervention only occurs during routine business hours starting at 8am, he said.

The Ethiopian plane, which originated in Addis Ababa, landed in Geneva shortly after 6am local time, and the co-pilot gave himself up to police after sliding down a rope from the cockpit window. Authorities briefly closed the airport, and by early afternoon it had resumed normal service.

As it passed through Egyptian airspace, the Ethiopian carrier flashed a hijacking code. That alerted Italian officials, who scrambled Eurofighter aircraft. Later, a duo of French Mirage 2000s escorted the airliner to Geneva. Both Italy and France have permission to enter Swiss airspace.

The relaxed attitude toward the breach comes just a week after Swiss voters approved a plan to toughen border restrictions and curb immigration. Swiss officials say the Ethiopian co-pilot is unlikely to receive asylum, and that he faces as many as 20 years in prison.


It wasn't the first time Switzerland's Air Force has relied on outside help. Neighbouring Austria deployed Eurofighter Typhoons to secure the airspace of the World Economic Forum 2014 in Davos last month and during the European Football Championship in Austria and Switzerland in 2008.

Mr Nussbaum said the Swiss will review their deployment plans to be able to deploy jets more spontaneously.

"We are planning to increase Air Force staff ... to do interventions in the future," he said.