Flight restrictions "would cost billions"

More aircraft have been flying over built up areas in Zurich since 2003 Keystone

Slashing flights at Zurich airport to reduce noise pollution would seriously dent the economy, cost thousands of jobs and "ruin" tourism, according to a report.

This content was published on January 8, 2007 - 18:28

The Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, also fears foreign firms could be put off coming to Switzerland if local voters accept to restrict flights to 250,000 a year.

The Zurich airport is the country's biggest.

The Federation outlined its case against the initiative in a report on the value of air transport to the Swiss economy, which was presented in Zurich on Monday.

Canton Zurich voters will go to the polls early this year to decide on the issue of flight restrictions at Switzerland's busiest airport. Noise pollution has been a hot topic ever since many aircraft were re-routed from flight paths over southern Germany in 2003.

A recent government report predicts air passenger numbers will double by 2030, leading to calls for Zurich airport to adapt to meet the expected demand. Annual take-offs and landings would have to increase from nearly 270,000 movements to 450,000.

Economiesuisse projects that restricting movements to 250,000 would cost the economy up to SFr7.5 billion ($6 billion) in 2020 if these growth predictions prove correct.

Grave consequences

And the Swiss International Airports Association (SIAA) warns that over 17,000 jobs, both directly and indirectly linked to air transport, could be lost based on the current formula that every million passengers create 1,000 positions.

Economiesuisse director Rudolf Ramsauer said restrictions on the expansion of any of Switzerland's airports would have "grave consequences" for the entire country.

"Business transactions, foreign direct investment and also tourism could never have conceivably reached their [present] success without airports, and particularly without Zurich airport," he said.

The Federation's transport spokesman Gregor Kündig added that the current spate of foreign firms locating headquarters in Switzerland was, in large part, down to the country's air transport infrastructure.

"If you are planning to have your headquarters in Switzerland then you would look for excellent connections," he told swissinfo. "Restricting our airport growth would not send out the best signal."

Compensation demands

The argument against increased air traffic, however, is gathering pace in Zurich.

A report by business magazine Cash estimated that the city's property could lose up to SFr8 billion ($6.47 billion) in value as a result of the southern airport approach.

And Zurich airport operators Unique expect to be landed with a noise pollution compensation bill of around SFr1.2 billion ($0.97 billion).

Unique chief executive and SIAA president Josef Felder told swissinfo that the protest was a lot of noise about nothing thanks to developments that have reduced aircraft sound emissions.

"Noise pollution is a quarter of what it was 25 years ago despite a doubling in the number of aircraft," he said. "Hopefully, engine manufacturers will continue to improve the noise efficiency of aircraft."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

Zurich airport handled 240,815 flight movements between January and November last year, a fall of 2.6% on the corresponding period in 2005 (December statistics not yet available).

The airport saw a total of 267,363 movements in the whole of 2005. A record 325,000 flights were recorded in 2000.

Despite the slight reduction in movements, more passengers flew in and out of the airport. Some 17,689,086 passengers used the airport between January and November last year, a rise of 7.1%.

In 2005, the total number of passengers was 17,884,652.

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In brief

Aircraft noise pollution has been a big issue in canton Zurich ever since Germany banned night and weekend flights en route to Zurich airport over parts of its southern territory in October 2003.

The ban followed the collapse of negotiations between Switzerland and Germany to resolve the situation. A compromise deal was thrown out by the Swiss parliament.

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.

A people's initiative to restrict movements in and out of Zurich airport was officially presented in December 2004.

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