F5 Tiger fighter jets of the Swiss Air Force, or Patrouille Suisse, perform Jan. 19 at the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup in Wengen. A plan to eliminate the Patrouille Suisse has drawn ire in the country. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)
GENEVA — Many Swiss were outraged Wednesday after hearing that the country’s beloved aerobatic red planes with their characteristic white crosses, the Patrouille Suisse, will be cut from the Swiss air force by 2016.
“We will no longer have planes simply for folklore,” President Ueli Maurer told a parliamentary security policy commission meeting on Tuesday, according to the Basler Zeitung daily. The commission had been discussing Switzerland’s pending purchase of 22 JAS39 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden when a member reportedly asked about the future of the Patrouille Suisse, which have been a fixture in Swiss skies since1964.
The Swiss president, who is also the country’s defense minister and a member of the populist right Swiss People’s Party, told the gathering that as of 2016, the cherished aerobatic team would cease to exist. The revelation sparked outrage in Switzerland, with politicians leading the way.
“Maurer is underestimating the symbolic importance of the Patrouille Suisse,” Martin Landolt, head of the Conservative Democratic Party of Switzerland, told the 20Minuten.ch website. The head of the Christian Democratic Party, Christoph Darbellay, agreed and described the decision as “a provocation.”
A former pilot with the aerobatic team, also quoted by 20Minuten.ch, denounced the move, stressing that the Patrouille Suisse had never had an accident since its creation in 1964.
“The Patrouille is the best business card Switzerland has,” pilot John Huessy said, insisting, “It is unacceptable to say that what they do is about folklore.”