Air traffic in Switzerland continued to grow last year, and Skyguide achieved a very good operational performance. While fulfilling its mandate, Skyguide remains under financial pressure.

Skyguide's operating income for 2023 rose to CHF 530 million (previous year: CHF 484 million), an increase of 9.5%. This is below expectations mainly because traffic recovered at a slower pace than forecasted. Operating expenses amounted to CHF 519 million, an increase of 10.2% on the previous year's CHF 471 million. The main driver here were increased investments in the resilience of the systems while continuing to drive innovation forward. The net result decreased by CHF 3,2 million from CHF 11 million in 2022 to CHF 7,8 million, which overall points to a stable year.

Increased volatility

Following the pandemic-related slump in commercial aviation and the partial recovery in the previous years, traffic figures rose moderately in 2023 (+5.1%). The volume of traffic is still 7.6% lower than in the pre-Covid year 2019. The national airports of Geneva (+6.6%) and Zurich (+15.1%) both recorded higher traffic volumes compared to 2022 largely due to the resumption of holiday traffic. Traffic volatility was again very high, with corresponding impact on personnel deployment planning and thus cost.

Very high punctuality

In 2023, 97.7% of all civil flights controlled by Skyguide were on time according to the European Network Manager Eurocontrol. In the previous year, the figure was 97.3%. Air traffic control-related delays averaged 8.5 seconds per flight (previous year: 18.3 seconds). Delays were primarily caused by difficult weather conditions. Other contributing factors were capacity bottlenecks at airports, the introduction of new systems in neighboring countries as well as industrial action in France.

Temporarily increased system susceptibility

Skyguide is in an important phase of its transformation process: while numerous applications have already been migrated to the new, virtualised technical infrastructure, the old infrastructure has not yet been fully decommissioned. This temporary double operation increases the susceptibility to error and increases costs. From the beginning of 2023 up until today, there were three technical incidents: On 30 October 2023, a manipulation error when introducing new firewalls, prevented aircraft from taking off from Zurich Airport for around two hours. On 18 December 2023, an interruption between two Skyguide applications delayed take-offs and landings at Zurich airport for around 20 minutes. And on 18 February 2024, a server slowed down temporarily, which meant that take-offs and landings at Zurich Airport were interrupted for about 10 minutes. In all cases, safety was never compromised and the impact on air traffic was overall small, as the Eurocontrol parameters on punctuality show.

Continued strong collaboration with Swiss Air Force

On behalf of the Swiss Air Force, Skyguide successfully secured the World Economic Forum (WEF), the UN Refugee Summit in Geneva and other missions. Overall, military aircraft movements decreased in 2023 by 3.4% to 85,237 (previous year: 88,154) due to fewer training missions by the Swiss Air Force. Skyguide supported 193 live and hot missions as well as 2,363 tactical missions (previous year: 211 and 2,397) by the Swiss Air Force.

Assessment and outlook

Skyguide has fulfilled its federal mandate in 2023 and delivered very good punctuality levels as well as a positive financial result. Looking forward, the company is under considerable financial pressure and the outcome of the negotiations with the European Union on the parameters of the next reference period (2025-2029) will be decisive for the financial and thus also operational sustainability of the company.

Alex Bristol, CEO of Skyguide: "Our first priority is safe daily operations which is why we have put an emphasis on resilience of our systems in the past year. Looking forward we will continue Skyguide's transformation as we remain convinced that virtualisation is the only way to make Europe's air navigation services more efficient, resilient and sustainable."