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Environmentalists try to drown out jet noise

Franz Weber handed in his initiative on Thursday in Bern

(Keystone)

Campaigners fed up with aircraft noise over tourist areas have handed in a petition to the federal authorities calling for action on the issue.

If the people's initiative launched by renowned Swiss environmentalist Franz Weber is accepted, voters will have to decide whether to ban military flights from holiday zones.

With more than 113,000 validated signatures, the initiative was handed in to the federal chancellery in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Thursday. A people's initiative needs at least 100,000 valid signatures to force a nationwide vote.

Weber began collecting signatures last year. He is especially interested in stopping flights over Lake Brienz in the Bernese Oberland.

The environmentalist's foundation owns a four-star hotel in the village of Brienz. Guests are reportedly regularly disturbed by fighter jets that have been operating out of an airbase in nearby Meiringen since May 2004.

Many local inhabitants were incensed over the military's decision to increase the number of training and surveillance missions using F/A 18 Hornet fighter jets, which they claim are twice as loud as the air force's older fleet of F5 Tigers.

They demanded that missions flown with the F/A 18 be restricted to the low season so as not to disturb holidaymakers who come to the region in summer in search of rest and relaxation.

Tourism concerns

Tourism generates most of the income in the valley stretching from Brienz to Meiringen. But the area is also of strategic importance for the Swiss military, which has operated the airbase for half a century.

Weber took local demands further by launching his initiative, which calls for a blanket ban on military jet flights over tourist areas in peacetime.

The vote comes at a time when Swiss air force operations are being reformed. With planned cutbacks, the military has decided to concentrate its flights on three bases: Payerne in canton Vaud, Sion in canton Valais and Meiringen.

More aircraft are expected to operate out of the Bernese Oberland by 2006 and Sion in canton Valais by 2008.

The Sion plans – and the threat of more noise - have already caused an uproar in the region, where tourism is also a vital part of the economy. Some experts estimate that overnight stays in the region could drop by as much as ten per cent.

But because the air force shares the Sion runway with commercial flights – mainly in winter – experts say it is unlikely that the local authorities will demand that the military scale back its operations. Without the fighter jets, the airport would have to shut down.

The 78-year-old Weber gave his backing to another initiative three weeks ago aimed at providing better protection for Swiss forests. He first gained prominence in the 1970s with a series of campaigns in Switzerland and abroad to save animals as well as natural and heritage sites.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Swiss air force plans to cut fighter jet flights in and out of the country's four airbases by 2010, slashing them from 51,000 today to around 25,000.

Swiss fighters can only operate during the working week, from 8am until the end of the afternoon. Night flights can only take place once a week.

Supersonic flights are not allowed under 10,000 metres, and only 300 take place in Switzerland every year as many training flights now happen outside the country.

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