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Government wants to take airports under its wing

The government wants a bigger say in how airports are run

(Keystone Archive)

The government is proposing to take over day-to-day management of the country’s airports under radical plans to overhaul air transport policy.

The transport ministry says it wants a bigger say in how Switzerland’s three main airports, Zurich, Geneva and Basel, are run and developed.

Airport operators reacted with scepticism to the proposals, which appeared in a draft report released on Thursday.

The report, the first major revision of air transport policy since the 1950s, covers a whole series of issues, including security, sustainable development and the future of the national carrier, Swiss.

The Swiss authorities complain that they have little influence over how Zurich, Geneva and Basel airports are run despite their national importance.

According to the transport ministry, the airports’ management companies decide how they want to operate, submitting their proposals first to their cantonal authorities before advising Bern.

“This situation is absurd, since the airports’ operations have an impact far beyond their cantons’ borders,” said the transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger.

State intervention

Two options have now been put forward. One would involve the federal authorities intervening on a case-by-case basis in local and cantonal policy, and imposing restrictions.

Bern could, for example, limit the number of flights, or put a ceiling on noise and pollution levels.

The government said it had the right to interfere if higher interests were involved, such as protecting the environment.

The second option goes even further and would see day-to-day management of airports handed over to the federal authorities.

“This wouldn’t mean nationalisation,” said Leuenberger. “There would not be a transfer of ownership.”

Flight ban

The report describes the current situation at Zurich airport as “unsatisfactory”. Restrictions on flights over southern Germany – the main approach to Zurich airport –have been in place for more than a year.

The government claims it has been powerless to stop canton Zurich putting its own interests first and damaging its relationship with neighbouring cantons and Germany.

The draft report also examines Zurich airport’s role as an international hub, questioning whether this is essential for its survival.

“Switzerland needs good connections with Europe and the rest of the world,” said Leuenberger. “But the idea of a hub for transit passengers doesn’t seem valid.”

The transport minister also reiterated the value of the national carrier, Swiss, saying it was an important factor in the country’s air transport policy.

He said he expected the airline to keep flying without further federal subsidies.

Reactions

While welcoming the publication of the report, the operators of Zurich and Geneva airports rejected the idea of increased state intervention.

Sonja Zöchling, spokeswoman for Zurich’s operator, Unique, said the airport had already proved itself as a private enterprise.

She added that management failed to understand why the federal authorities were not concerned about the airport’s future as an international hub.

Geneva’s managing director, Jean-Pierre Jobin, was also sceptical of government plans to take on a bigger role.

“I don’t think they have the personnel or the financial means to do it,” he said.

Jobin said the best option would be for the government to take on security costs and to help pay for soundproofing and compensation for local residents.

The draft report, which was released as part of a consultation procedure, comes three weeks after sweeping reforms of Switzerland’s civil aviation office were announced.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The transport ministry published its draft report on future air transport policy on Thursday.

Geneva and Zurich airports say suggestions that the government take over management are unrealistic.

The centre-right Radical Party and the rightwing People's Party say the government should not increase its influence.

The centre-right Christian Democrats and the centre-left Social Democrats are not opposed to the plan.

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