Pollution index to limit Zurich airport flights

Noise pollution has been a long-standing political issue Keystone

Zurich's cantonal parliament has rejected putting a flat ceiling on flight movements at Switzerland's main airport in an ongoing row over noise pollution.

This content was published on February 5, 2007 - 21:37

At the weekend the city's mayor also wrote a controversial letter to the authorities in neighbouring Germany in an effort to seek a compromise in the dispute.

A majority in parliament voted on Monday against a people's initiative calling for a maximum of 250,000 flights a year but adopted measures that are likely to limit traffic to 320,000 flights.

An Aircraft Noise Pollution Index will measures the number of people directly disturbed by air traffic. Flights could be stopped once a threshold is reached – roughly 47,000 people affected, which equates to around 320,000 flights.

Noise pollution from Switzerland's main flight hub has been a long-running political issue ever since Germany banned night and weekend flights to and from Zurich airport over parts of its southern territory in October 2003.

Since then many more flights have been redirected over the city of Zurich and affluent suburbs.

The Federal Aviation Office declined to comment on Monday's parliamentary decision, but Zurich airport operators Unique accused the canton of ducking the issue.

"We are against any restriction of air traffic movements. This decision has just pushed the problem aside to be dealt with in the future," said Unique spokesman Marc Rauch.

The bill is to go to a second reading later this month. The final decision rests with a public vote likely to be held in November.

Counter measures

The city's mayor, Elmar Ledergerber, added fuel to the debate at the weekend by publishing an open letter in two German newspapers calling for more understanding from Switzerland's neighbour over the issue of flight paths.

Ledergerber addressed his letter to the president of southern German state of Baden-Württemberg, Günther Oettinger.

He pointed out that 1,000 Germans work at Zurich airport and that 1.5 million passengers from Germany use it every year. Around a quarter of all flights out of Zurich connect with German airports, he added.

In addition, Ledergerber wrote that 30,000 people travel from southern Germany to work in Switzerland every day and 3,000 German trucks cross the border between the two countries.

Ledergerber followed this up by outlining the frustration felt by many Swiss towards the flight ban over southern Germany.

"I hear people on a weekly basis demanding with increasing urgency that we must impose counter measures," Ledergerber wrote.

"For example, close the bridges over the River Rhine to protect against noise during the same hours that the northern approaches are banned. Or I hear that we should discriminate against, or even ban people from the Black Forest that fly to and from the airport."

However, Ledergerber's office told swissinfo that the letter was not intended as a threat.

"This letter only tried to convey the emotions of the affected people in Zurich," said spokesman Sven Frauenfelder. "We hope this will broaden the discussion about a very important issue."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

Zurich airport handled 260,786 flights last year, down 2.5% on 2005.
A record 325,000 flights were recorded in 2000.
Some 19,237,216 passengers used the airport in 2006, up 7.6% on the previous year.

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In brief

Zurich airport is Switzerland's main flight hub ahead of Geneva and Basel. It has a current capacity of 350,000 flights per year.

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 just over 260,000 flights to 450,000.

Swiss Business Federation 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.

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