The Swiss transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, has confirmed preliminary talks are being held with Germany to ease flight restrictions at Zurich airport.
Negotiations with Berlin have been on hold for more than a year, since Switzerland’s northern neighbour introduced measures aimed at cutting aircraft noise over the border.
Leuenberger told the “NZZ am Sonntag” newspaper that contrary to what many politicians believe, the Swiss government has not given up on convincing the Germans to ease their controversial restrictions.
The transport minister said he was looking at a solution which would be acceptable to both sides.
After parliament's refusal to ratify the accord in March 2003, Germany opted to take unilateral action the following month.
It imposed restrictions on early morning, evening and overnight flights over southern Germany - a key route into Zurich airport.
During restricted periods, planes have to approach Zurich – around 20 kilometres from the German border – from the south.
The result has been that thousands of residents living in affluent areas of Switzerland's largest city are forced to endure the sound of planes flying overhead every three minutes between 6am and 7am during the week, and 6am and 9am at the weekend.
Locals have been seething about the German decision ever since, and not just because of the noise.
Some homeowners have also seen the value of their properties drop substantially.
Leuenberger warned that even if talks went ahead with Germany, residents shouldn’t expect too much.
He added that Switzerland would not be able to do away with the flight restrictions by offering something else in return to the Germans.
“We don’t have anything to bargain with at the moment,” he said.
Some observers say the most effective way of encouraging the Germans to compromise would be to sell Swiss, the national carrier, to its German competitor, Lufthansa.
“Theoretically, anything is possible,” said Leuenberger. “If Lufthansa told the German transport minister it was necessary to modify the flight restrictions concerning Zurich airport, I would be quite satisfied.”
Christoph Franz, head of Swiss, told the “SonntagsZeitung” that his company wanted the approach procedures into Zurich to be changed, adding they were “far too complicated”.
Swiss suffers most from the German flight restrictions, since nearly all its intercontinental flights leave and arrive in Zurich, and the airport is also its main hub.
Franz said that his company’s voice alone would not be enough to convince the German government to act, and that a new bilateral agreement was needed between Switzerland and Germany.
swissinfo with agencies
In 2001, Switzerland and Germany had agreed to limit the number of flights permitted to fly over southern Germany before landing in Zurich to 100,000, down by a third.
After parliament turned down the accord, Berlin then banned flights over parts of southern Germany - the main approach to Zurich airport - between 9 pm and 7am in April 2003.
The restrictions cut the number of flights passing over this area by 80,000 a year, forcing the airport to implement a controversial southern approach.
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