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Compromise reached in Zurich airport row

Switzerland has offered its German neighbours 16.5 hours of silence a week Keystone

Switzerland and Germany have reached a breakthrough agreement in a long-running dispute over noise coming from Zurich airport, with Switzerland ceding 16.5 hours of silence a week.

After five rounds of negotiations, Transport Minister Doris Leuthard said delegations from both countries had agreed on Monday a state treaty concerning flight noise.

Flights over southern Germany heading to and from Zurich airport will be affected, with changes set to come into effect after required runway extensions, but at any rate by 2020.

Evening flights will have to pass over Switzerland three hours earlier than at present. In return, Germany will accept morning flights 30 minutes earlier and drop its demands for a limit to the number of Zurich flights using German air space.

Flights over southern Germany will be permitted during the week from 6.30am-6pm and at weekends and public holidays from 9am-6pm.

Leuthard told a press conference in Bern on Monday that the compromise would enable “in a fair way” the resolution of a spat that had dragged on for years.

“We’re half-satisfied,” she said. “We’ve achieved something, but obviously not the best result. Both parties have had to make concessions, but that’s how negotiations work,” she said.

 Lost appeals

The row is decades old but stepped up in 2003 when Germany moved to unilaterally restrict the number of flights over its territory and enforced a total ban on night landings and take offs.

Planes were forced to fly instead over the densely populated areas south and east of Zurich.
The Swiss lost successive appeals over the German decree and in 2010 took the dispute to the European Court of Justice, which found that German measures were “proportionate”.
A German-Swiss working group has been looking at options since 2009.

Monday’s state treaty has to be signed by Leuthard and her German counterpart, Peter Ramsauer, and ratified by both countries’ respective parliaments.

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.

The aircraft noise row is decades old, but has had top political priority since 2000.  It concerns parts of southern Germany which suffer from aircraft noise when airplanes land at Zurich airport.

In 2003 Germany reduced the number of flights allowed over parts of its southern territory as well as banning night flights for that area. The development forced Zurich airport to redirect flights to its southern runway, passing over parts of the city and other densely populated areas of Switzerland. The Swiss have lost successive appeals over the German decree.

Since then a row has broken out in Switzerland in canton Zurich and with the neighbouring cantons of Aargau, Thurgau and Schaffhausen over the flight path.

In October 2010 Switzerland announced it was to play its last card in the ongoing dispute by taking its case to Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR