Until now, the Swiss Air Force was only able to police its airspace during “office hours”, meaning on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a 30-minute break during lunch.
The bizarre limitation came under fire in 2014, when an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767, flying from Addis Ababa to Milano, was hijacked and diverted to Geneva by its co-pilot. As the incident took place at 6 a.m., the flight had to be escorted by Italian Eurofighter Typhoon and French Mirage 2000 fighters.
To remedy the problem, the Swiss Air Force launched the PA24 program in 2015. The aim was to reach round-the-clock readiness of two armed F/A-18 Hornets at Payerne Air Base through several milestones. In 2017, the availability was extended to the weekend. In 2019, the alert period was extended from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
As of December 31, 2020, the project will finally reach its objective of 24/7 air policing. “In 2020, the PA24 project has already made it possible to carry out 15 hot missions and 290 live missions, thus greatly contributing to airspace security and the application of sovereignty over Swiss airspace,” the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport said. “To finalize the project at the end of 2020, nearly 100 additional positions in total have been created at the Air Force, the Army Logistics Base and the Command Support Base.”
The increase in air police capacity over 24 hours should cost an additional 30 million francs (€27 million) per year.
The F/A-18 Hornets should eventually be replaced by new aircraft, as the Swiss Air Force is currently holding a competition. Four contenders are currently in the race: the Dassault Rafale, the Lockheed Martin F-35, the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.