Skyguide system outage
No liability of Skyguide
Assistance and compensation from airlines

Skyguide system outage

Switzerland's airspace was shut down for several hours in the morning of 15 June 2022 when a computer malfunction paralysed the Swiss air navigation service provider Skyguide.

At 3:35am, safety-relevant information – including flight numbers, altitude and routing information – suddenly went missing and were no longer available to air traffic controllers. The cause and scope of the malfunction were unclear.

At 4:40am, a Skyguide crisis response team decided to close the entire Swiss airspace and clear the sky. This meant that all aircraft had to leave the Swiss airspace immediately.

In the following hours, flights were rerouted to the nearby airports of Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna or Lyon and Milan instead of the airports of Zurich and Geneva. Short-haul flights were put on hold.

Skyguide's technicians were able to locate and resolve the problem relatively quickly. A malicious cyberattack was ruled out. A network malfunction at a Geneva computer centre had been caused by the failures of both a network switch and the back-up system, requiring a hardware component to be replaced. Once this was done, normal operations were restored.

At 8:30am, the airspace closure was lifted. Aircraft were again permitted to land and take off at the Zurich and Geneva airports.

Nonetheless, the incident affected thousands of passengers whose flights were cancelled or delayed by several hours.

No liability of Skyguide

In a first reaction, some passengers pointed at Skyguide in an attempt to find a liable party, but this was misguided.

Skyguide is a state-owned enterprise which is commissioned by the Swiss government to manage both civil and military aircraft in the airspace over Switzerland and in adjoining airspaces delegated by neighbouring countries Germany, Austria, France and Italy. Liability claims against Skyguide will be dealt with under the Federal Act on the Liability of the Swiss Confederation.

The Act imputes liability only to situations where an officer or employee of Skyguide has acted, or failed to act, unlawfully. This is primarily the case if an accident results in bodily injury or death where an act or an omission of an air traffic controller led to an aircraft accident.

Pure economic loss, which is not accompanied by any physical damage to a person or property, does not constitute unlawfulness under the Act. Financial damage, which passengers typically suffer as a result of cancellation or delay of their flights, are not consequential due to a result of physical damage to a person or property.

Fortunately, no bodily injury or death resulted from the incident of 15 June 2022. Based on the information currently available, no act or omission of a Skyguide officer or employee in connection with the airspace closure can be characterised as unlawful within the meaning of the Act. It is therefore highly unlikely that Skyguide bears any liability towards affected passengers.

Assistance and compensation from airlines

Affected passengers are better advised to contact their airlines instead. By virtue of the EU-Switzerland Air Transport Agreement, Switzerland has adopted the EU Flight Compensation Regulation.(1)

The EU Flight Compensation Regulation applies to all flights operated by EU, Swiss, Norwegian or Icelandic airlines. Regardless of the airline, the EU Flight Compensation Regulation also applies to all flights departing from the European Union, Switzerland, Norway or Iceland.

On that basis, airlines are under the obligation to provide assistance (among other things, reimbursement of the cost of the ticket or rerouting to the final destination) and to meet certain expenses (meal, accommodation and telecoms costs). This should have applied to most if not all of the passengers affected by the airspace closure on 15 June 2022.

Should an airline fail to meet its obligations to provide assistance and take care of expenses, passengers can claim reimbursement of the sums that prove necessary, appropriate and reasonable to make up for the shortcomings of the airline.

Under the EU Flight Compensation Regulation, airlines must also pay flat-rate compensations of between €250 and €600, depending on the distance of the scheduled flight, to passengers whose flight has been cancelled, or if passengers are wrongfully denied boarding.

The European Court of Justice ruled in its Sturgeon judgment and in other judgments that passengers whose flights are delayed by at least three hours are also entitled to flat-rate compensations, notwithstanding the fact that the wording of the EU Flight Compensation Regulation provides no such remedy. A district court (ie, a court of first instance) near Zurich held in February 2016 that Sturgeon is not a precedent that the Swiss courts have to follow. It remains unclear whether compensation for delay is available in Switzerland.

In any event, the EU Flight Compensation Regulation states that airlines are not obligated to compensate passengers in the event of "extraordinary circumstances". Those are circumstances that do not correspond to the ordinary course of events and are outside of what is usually associated with the course of passenger transport by air. The European Court of Justice has recognised that the closure of a part of European airspace following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010 constituted an extraordinary circumstance.

It is highly likely that the Swiss airspace closure in the morning hours of 15 June 2022 will likewise be characterised as an extraordinary circumstance. It follows that airlines are not obligated to compensate passengers.

That said, the existence of an extraordinary circumstance does not relieve airlines of their obligations to provide assistance and care to affected passengers.

For further information on this topic please contact Andreas Fankhauser at bellpark legal ag by telephone (+41 43 204 0090) or email ([email protected]). The bellpark legal ag website can be accessed at


(1) 261/2004.