Airports face rising numbers of passengers
Switzerland's main airports are preparing to deal with a steep rise in passengers as the peak holiday period begins in earnest this weekend.
Air travel is, in general, becoming increasingly popular, meaning that the country's hubs will have to make huge investments in their infrastructure and services to cope.
Thousands of passengers are expected at the airports over the next few days, which will result in a higher workload for personnel.
Added to this is the fact that they are still subject to tougher security measures, introduced last year, which restrict the amount of liquids they can carry on board planes.
On average it is estimated that two tons of liquids, such as perfumes, gels and drinks, are confiscated from hand luggage at Swiss airports every day – a lot of extra work for staff.
Mark Rauch, spokesman for Zurich airport, Switzerland's largest hub, said that the airport was well able to manage the situation.
"When we know we'll be dealing with an above average number of airport users, we lay on extra staff, so that we can reduce the inevitable inconveniences to the minimum," Rauch said.
Similar measures, aimed at avoiding queues and delays, are planned for Geneva airport.
"Apart from increasing the number of staff, passengers are also encouraged to make sure they get to the airport ever earlier," said Olivier Deletraz, a member of the airport's management. Information campaigns are also important, he said.
But inconveniences could not be totally avoided, said Deletraz, adding that tourists were generally aware of this and in most cases understanding.
More to come
But increased numbers of passengers are not just due to the seasons.
The number of travellers and flights in Switzerland has risen steadily in recent years, encouraged by favourable economic conditions. This is despite the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001.
Between 2002 and 2006 the total rose by around 16 per cent, from 29 million to 34 million.
According to figures for 2005 published by the Federal Aviation Office, this trend should continue. The number of passengers at Zurich airport, for example, is expected to double by 2030 from 19 million to 40 million.
"This overall growth scenario has been confirmed, unless there are serious and unexpected events," said Rauch.
Changes to infrastructure are therefore necessary. "We have to act now if we want to satisfy demand," added Rauch. "Changes to buildings can in fact take a long time because of appeals and complex procedures."
In all, the airports are planning to invest or have invested around SFr740 million ($616 million) in ramping up their offer. This includes more parking areas, check-in desks and shopping malls, as well as hotels and restaurants.
Basel's EuroAirport, which is smaller than its Geneva and Zurich counterparts but highly popular due to budget airlines, is also concerned by these developments.
"We started our plan for increasing infrastructure back in 1998," explained Vivienne Gaskell, the head of the airport's communications.
"This plan allows us to double our capacity, from three million to between six and eight million passengers."
However, even if Swiss airports are ready for changes to passenger numbers, concerns have been raised over whether they will be able to cope with other challenges such as the environmental impact of increased air traffic, dwindling oil resources and higher fuel prices.
swissinfo, based on an Italian article by Andrea Clementi
The number of air passengers in Switzerland has been rising since 2002 and is expected to increase even further this year.
In the first five months of this year, passenger numbers increased by 13% at Basel's airport, 9% at Zurich and 7% at Geneva.
According to the Federal Aviation Office, the total number of passengers for Zurich airport will rise from 19 million to 40 million by 2030.
Capacity should be pushed to its limit by around 2030, according to the office.
The main Swiss airports will be investing or have invested in their infrastructure.
Zurich intends to spend SFr300 million in the next few years to improve Terminal B. Also planned are 4,500m² of shopping areas and new hotels.
At Geneva, the bill will be around SFr60 million. Around 5,000m² of extra space (commercial, check-in desks, baggage areas) will be added by 2009.
Basel's EuroAirport has been implementing its infrastructure plan since 1998, which should total around SFr380 million.
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