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Protests greet opening of new Zurich flight path

A controversial new landing approach into Zurich airport has taken effect Keystone Archive

Hundreds of people have protested against a controversial new southern approach into Zurich airport which became operational on Thursday.

Residents from Gockhausen, where planes now fly 1,000 feet overhead, showed their irritation by shouting and whistling as jets flew into the airport.

An estimated 2,500 demonstrators gathered at five separate locations along the route to protest against the inaugural landing.

Thousands of residents living in affluent areas are now 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.

Seventeen planes landed from the south between 6.09am and 6.56am on Thursday.

“There were no problems,” said Patrick Herr, spokesman for Switzerland’s air traffic control agency, Skyguide.

A southern approach into Switzerland’s main airport has been opened up because of tough new flight restrictions imposed by Germany.

The measures follow Bern’s refusal in March to ratify an aviation accord with Berlin aimed at reducing noise pollution over southern Germany.

Unilateral action

Skyguide has spent months testing the new flight path after Germany opted to take unilateral action in April this year.

Germany imposed restrictions in April on early morning, evening and overnight flights into Zurich from the north. The ban has now been widened.

During restricted periods, planes will have to approach Zurich – some 20 kilometres from the German border – from the south.

This week the Swiss transport ministry threw out appeals by opponents seeking to delay the introduction of the southern landing approach.

Skyguide has been working since August to prepare a runway for planes landing from the south.

Runway 34 has never before been used by planes following the southern approach, apart from once in 2000 due to construction work.


Air traffic controllers have had to develop new approach procedures – an overhaul that would normally take “at least six months”, according to Skyguide spokesman Patrick Herr.

At the same time, Skyguide has had to train 68 controllers. The agency said in a statement that such “a rapid introduction (to a new system) has to be considered an exception, considering the vast responsibilities implicit in air control.”

The additional flight restrictions had been due to come into force during the summer, but Moritz Leuenberger, the Swiss transport minister, earned a stay of execution during talks with his counterpart, Manfred Stolpe.

The delay gave Skyguide time to meet technical requirements to allow planes to fly into Zurich from the south.

Another difficulty facing Skyguide is the airport’s decision to delay allowing aircraft to land on Thursday by four minutes to 06h04.

The reason behind the decision is that if aircraft land at 06h00, the noise they generate could disturb nearby German residents at 05h59, allowing them to claim financial compensation.


Skyguide, headquartered in Geneva, controls air traffic into Zurich and Geneva airports.
It has a staff of close to 500 at each airport.
Swiss controllers are also responsible for monitoring air traffic over southern Germany.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR