Virtual Centre: Our pioneering answer to the competing interests of air traffic management

Air traffic management (ATM) in Europe is at a crossroads – with increasing pressure to reduce costs and aviation’s environmental impact while improving resilience and giving due priority to safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need to digitalise ATM in a way that will allow air navigation service providers to adapt their capacity rapidly to changes in traffic demand. This is what Skyguide is doing with its pioneering Virtual Centre programme.

Air traffic control systems across Europe have traditionally been developed by individual states based on their own requirements and political borders. This fragmentation makes ATM inflexible and inefficient. Even the small airspace above Switzerland is cut in two with each half being managed by its own air traffic service unit (Geneva and Dübendorf) based on separate and vertically integrated operational and technical concepts. The challenge we address in Switzerland is a reflection of the challenges at European level.


The Virtual Centre programme is Skyguide’s answer to this outdated and inefficient European ATM set-up.




With the Virtual Centre programme, we will harmonise and modernise everything, from the technology on the ground to the operational procedures for the airspace users in the sky. This new set-up, based on a network-centric and open architecture, will allow us to manage any piece of Swiss or delegated airspace from Dübendorf or Geneva as if we had only one air traffic service unit. This is what we call location independence.


The Virtual Centre brings a number of benefits for our clients, the aviation landscape and society:

  • It allows us to react much more rapidly to increasing or decreasing traffic demand by adapting our capacity as needed.
  • It thus makes ATM more efficient and less costly for our clients.
  • It contributes to reducing the environmental impact of aviation by optimising flight trajectories and thus reducing CO2 emissions.
  • It strengthens business continuity capabilities, including increased cyber security resilience.
  • Last but not least: The technological harmonisation and modernisation improves the safety of our operations.


The Virtual Centre programme is fully aligned with Europe’s ambition of a digital European sky. Skyguide is repeatedly rewarded as a European innovation leader in this regard and the Swiss approach is recognised as exemplary of how to move forward. However, there is still a need now to incentivise early movers to make sure more players contribute to building an economically and environmentally more efficient European ATM.