As a non-flyer, I wasn’t planning on spending much time (if any) in the aviation exhibits at the Swiss Transport Museum in Luzern. But then by mistake I chose the wrong museum entrance and found myself in a high-tech exhibit on SkyGuide, the Swiss air traffic control agency.
Under ordinary circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have given this sort of thing a second glance, but I was there during a week when SkyGuide was front-page news in the Swiss papers (for the first time ever, as far as I know), so I was curious about it.
What had happened was that on the morning of Wednesday, June 15, 2022, SkyGuide suffered a massive computer crash that forced it to close Swiss airspace for several hours.
This was not a big news story in neighboring countries, certainly not in Germany, where hundreds of flights were being cancelled because of staff shortages. But it was big news in Switzerland, and I read about it each morning in the local paper while having breakfast at my hotel in Luzern. Three days later it was still a big story, and the Luzerner Zeitung ran a lengthy interview with the head of the SkyGuide software department, who claimed that the computer crash had been caused not by a software glitch, but by the failure of some inconspicuous hardware component that had to be found and replaced.
So I had a closer look at the exhibit, which had no doubt been designed by some of the 1500 innovative people from 30 nations who work for SkyGuide, and found that it consisted mainly of a stylized interactive map of Swiss airspace that was projected onto the floor from above.
Whenever anyone walked on the map — or children ran around on it — things happened. Planes appeared on the floor, one for each person, and made radio contact with the nearest SkyGuide transmitter. When they got out of range of one transmitter, they contacted another. Thunderstorms developed, and the planes were supposed to fly around them. I have no idea how this was all accomplished technically (considering it was just a projection onto the floor), so if anyone knows, please tell me in the comments below.
Despite their computer crash, I somehow came away from the exhibit with renewed confidence in SkyGuide, so in the unlikely event that I ever have to fly in Swiss airspace I won’t be too concerned about my safety, just about polluting the atmosphere and heating up the planet.