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Final descent? German minister stalls airport accord

Planes approaching Zurich airport must fly over Germany, causing ongoing debate over noise pollution


Germany’s transport minister has said he will set aside an agreement with Switzerland on flight noise around Zurich airport until the countries can work out further details. However, the Swiss argue more negotiations aren’t necessary.

Peter Ramsauer announced on Monday that Germany still wants to discuss “open questions” not covered by the agreement, which was struck by the two governments in July after five rounds of negotiation.

The agreement remains especially controversial in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg which experiences the most noise from airplanes approaching Zurich. Politicians from the region have been especially vocal in calling for further negotiations over flight routes, altitudes and the number of flights per day.

The German-Swiss flight noise agreement currently on the table changes flight times and paths to give Germany 16.5 more hours of silence per week, at Switzerland’s expense. Ramsauer and Swiss Transport Minister Doris Leuthard signed the agreement in September, and it must yet be ratified by the Swiss and German parliaments.

In response to Ramsauer’s announcement, the Swiss transport ministry told Swtzerland’s Blick newspaper that it was prepared “to examine the questions that have cropped up on the German side and work them out together.”

However, Leuthard’s department added that further formal negotiations were not necessary and said the cabinet planned to propose the agreement to Swiss parliament for ratification before the end of the year.

Taxing politics

Ramsauer’s hesitation comes amid ongoing political wrangling between Switzerland and Germany over a controversial tax accord aimed at legalising undeclared assets held by German citizens in Swiss banks.

Much of the German public is against the ratification of the tax accord with Switzerland, and some German lawmakers who have failed to speak out against it have suffered politically. Many Swiss analysts and politicians view Ramsauer’s announcement as an effort by him to avoid the same fate.

Zurich airport

Zurich airport is the biggest airport in Switzerland and is less than 20 kilometres from the German border. 

Swiss International Air Lines – and thus its mother company, the German Lufthansa – is the largest flight operator there, and therefore has an interest in the smooth running of air traffic at Zurich airport.

Around half of air traffic comes from German airlines and more than 20 per cent of all flights are between Switzerland and Germany.

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