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Switzerland cuts deal with Germany over air traffic

Kurt Bodewig and Moritz Leuenberger finally hammered out a compromise in Bonn


The transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, and his German counterpart, Kurt Bodewig, have resolved a long-standing dispute over noise from Switzerland's main airport at Zurich-Kloten. Details are the agreement have not yet been released.

The two ministers managed to reach a deal after tense negotiations. Germany had threatened to cut the number of flights allowed to use airspace over southern Germany before landing at Kloten, if no accord were reached.

Details of the new agreement, which is due to be signed in Bern on October 18, came after the two sides agreed in principle last April to reduce the number of flights over Germany.

The at deal included a ban on night flights and a reduction in flights over weekends.

Key issues

A key issue in Tuesday negotiations was how to cut the number of permitted flights to below 100,000 a year in 2005 from the current level of about 150,000.

The ministers also discussed how the treaty would be affected by an accord on air transport, which is still pending, between Switzerland and the European Union.

Another sticking point in previous negotiations was the demand by German towns and border communities for financial compensation. They have complained for years about noise and environmental pollution from aircraft flying over their territories.

The proposed new treaty would replace a 1984 agreement and is aimed at a geographically more balanced use of flight lanes to Zurich airport.

Opposition at home

Leuenberger was harshly criticised in Switzerland following the agreement in April. Some of the main political parties and the main employers' organisation, economiesuisse, raised objections to the treaty.

The parties called on Leuenberger not to yield to German pressure. The airport authorities of Zurich-Kloten, Geneva and Basel, as well as the Swissair Group, which includes the national airline, even urged him to abandon the negotiations.

The Swiss parliament is expected to discuss the issue next year and may decide to let Swiss voters have the final word on the issue.

German demands

Germany had threatened to unilaterally cut the number of flights approaching Kloten airport to 80,000 flights a year.

The Swiss authorities, however, stressed that they need time until 2005 to implement the cuts to ensure a smooth transition for technical, political and economic reasons.

Zurich-Kloten is Switzerland's main airport, situated less than 20 kilometres from the border with Germany. Most aircraft landing at the airport currently fly over territory in southern Germany.

by Urs Geiser


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