Zurich airport seeks to reassure locals

Zurich airport director Josef Felder has been facing tough questions Keystone

Zurich’s international airport, facing pressure and criticism from all sides, has proposed new operational guidelines.

This content was published on February 17, 2004 - 19:33

The airport’s management says it wants to improve conditions for its German and Swiss neighbours, who have regularly voiced their displeasure in recent months.

The importance given to the new guidelines was highlighted on Tuesday, when the head of the Federal Transport Office made the trip to Zurich to discuss them.

“Even when we are discussing the new alpine rail tunnels, we always remain in Bern,” said Max Friedli, who is also the interim director of the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA).

Friedli travelled to the airport to explain the details of the procedure that should lead to the approval of the guidelines.

Presented by the management, these are mainly an update of an earlier set of guidelines, which needed to be adapted, especially after the introduction of flight restrictions over southern Germany.


Josef Felder, director of the airport managment company, Unique, has been fielding a barrage of criticism in the past few days, following media reports about delays at the airport and a near-miss between two aircraft last August.

Following this incident, the FOCA increased the minimum flying distance between aircraft, cutting capacity at the airport, which chose not to reveal the change at the time.

“We did not hide anything and we don’t accept criticism for something we are not responsible for,” said Felder. “We only supply infrastructure, whereas air traffic control is Skyguide’s business and surveillance is FOCA’s.”

Felder also defended his management team from some of the more personal attacks seen recently, calling for a wider discussion on the airport’s role. “We need a clear policy, and a proper debate on what the Swiss expect from this airport,” he added.


Besides setting a limit of 350,000 aircraft movements per year, the biggest change set out in the new guidelines is that planes in holding patterns will be restricted to Swiss airspace and no longer have access to Germany as of early next year.

Moving holding pattern zones from one country to another will not prove to be particularly difficult, but other changes at Unique airport have made operations more difficult.

Management says it faces Europe’s toughest noise restrictions, making it the only airfield to shut down its runways from 11pm to 6am.

Zurich is also the airport that enjoys the fewest hours of unrestricted operations, from seven in the morning to nine o’clock at night.

These restrictions, along with some new ones, will be part and parcel of the new guidelines. The runways will only open at six in the morning, and fewer planes will land or take off in the evening.

“Altogether, our neighbours will get another hour and a half’s respite,” said Felder.

For people living under the new southern approach imposed by the German authorities, this won’t actually mean any change. No planes land before six in the morning.

Following last August’s near-miss, the airport’s management has revised the flight paths for takeoffs – normal and emergency - on two almost-parallel runways. It is hoping that these revised procedures will be enough to convince the FOCA to lift its restrictions.


Locals living under the southern approach have already criticised the new guidelines, warning that will only lead to an increase in noise and disturbances.

Representatives of an association defending residents’ interests said they were outraged that the airport has presented its proposed operational guidelines before talks about ongoing disturbances had even begun.

The guidelines, which will be submitted for public debate from March to May, are only intended for use until these talks are over, according to Max Friedli.

If they are given the go-ahead by the FOCA before November, the guidelines should go into effect next year.

swissinfo, Ariane Gigon Bormann (translation: Scott Capper)

In brief

Zurich airport has presented revised operational guidelines to the FOCA.

It is counting on a reduction of the number of people affected by flight path noise from 50,000 to 40,000 in 2010.

Airport management believes it faces the toughest noise restrictions of any airfield in Europe.

Zurich airport is also hoping new flight procedures will encourage the FOCA to drop rules governing flight distances introduced after a near-miss last year.

These restrictions have led to a drop in the airport's handling capacity.

A European ranking released last week highlighted Zurich as the airport most affected by delays.

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