Pilatus can continue to work in Saudi Arabia and the UAE

A Pilatus PC-21 aircraft being worked on in Stans, canton Nidwalden. Keystone / Urs Flueeler

Swiss aircraft manufacturer Pilatus can continue its business activities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a court has confirmed. The Swiss foreign ministry had banned the company from operating in the Gulf states.

This content was published on January 15, 2021 - 15:01

In a ruling published on Friday, the Federal Administrative Court in St Gallen annulled a foreign ministry decision in June 2019 to ban the Stans-based aircraft manufacturer from operating in the two countries.

The ministry had claimed that the support services offered by Pilatus to the armed forces of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which include technical support, replacement parts management and fixing problems with a fleet of 55 Pilatus PC-21 military trainer aircraft, were “not compatible with the [Swiss] government’s foreign policy objectives”.

A US-backed Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, of which the UAE is a part, intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-backed Houthis rebels. Years of United Nations efforts to get both sides to agree to a cease-fire and start peace negotiations have not succeeded. 

The latest Swiss court ruling upheld an appeal by Pilatus. The St Gallen judges pointed out that the aircraft manufacturer is one of the largest employers in central Switzerland. It is part of the country's “technological and industrial base” that ensures the country’s long-term security, it said.

When making its decision, the foreign ministry should have taken into account “public interest considerations” such as the maintenance of the Switzerland’s prosperity and independence, the court said. These “superior state interests” are covered by the Federal Act on Private Security Services Provided AbroadExternal link and allow exceptional authorisations for activities that are normally prohibited, it said.

An exceptional authorisation is only granted if organisations do not directly participate in a conflict and ensure that any services rendered are not used to commit serious human rights violations, it added.

The court said the foreign ministry had imposed the ban without referring to the Federal Council (executive body), which normally grants authorisations in exceptional circumstances. The foreign ministry  "carried out political assessment which was not its responsibility", it concluded.

The St Gallen court’s ruling can still be appealed at the higher Federal Court.

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