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Runway reopens at Zurich airport

Zurich airport has reopened runway 28 Keystone

Authorities at Zurich airport have reopened a controversial runway closed a week ago after a Crossair jet crashed, killing 24 people.

The move coincides with the introduction of new conditions for planes landing on runway 28. From now on the runway must be visible from at least 4,000 metres and cloud cover must be at least 400 metres off the ground.

The action taken by Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA) comes a day after Crossair issued its own instructions to pilots, setting a minimum visibility of 5,000 metres and a minimum cloud level of 500 metres.

The minimum standard set for Swiss airports by FOCA is 1,500 metres visibility and there is no limit on cloud cover.

Runway 28, which was closed following the crash, reopened at midday on Saturday. Tests carried out during the week failed to identify any problems with the landing strip, said FOCA.

Bad weather

Crossair flight LX 3597 from Berlin to Zurich crashed in bad weather three kilometres short of the tarmac, killing 24 of the 33 people on board. Of the nine survivors, one remains in a critical condition.

Officials have refused to speculate on the cause of the tragedy, but visibility was poor, with rain and some snow. Initial reports indicated that the plane was flying too low.

Data taken from the aircraft’s flight recorders, which was released by investigators on Friday, showed that the pilots were in the process of aborting their landing attempt when the accident occurred.

It has also emerged that the crew was initially preparing to land on runway 14, which, unlike runway 28, is equipped with an Instrument Landing System (ILS). An ILS provides precise information, including the exact altitude of the plane.

Runway 28

However during the descent, about 20 minutes before the crash, the pilot was ordered to switch to runway 28, which is not equipped with an ILS and requires the pilot to manually gauge his altitude.

At a press conference in Zurich on Saturday, André Auer, director of FOCA, revealed that his department was looking into the feasibility of installing ILS on runway 28.

Runway 28 was recently introduced as a late night landing area as part of an agreement between the Swiss and German governments to reduce noise pollution at Zurich airport.

Crossair, a subsidiary of the ailing Swissair Group, is taking over parts of Swissair’s operations in April 2002. A government-financed SFr1.45 billion bailout will keep Swissair flying until the takeover date.

Last Saturday’s crash was the second in as many years for Crossair. A Saab340 crashed shortly after takeoff from Zurich on January 10 2000, killing all 10 people on board.

swissinfo with agencies

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