Switzerland forced to back down in aviation row

Flights over southern Germany will have to be cut by 35 per cent Keystone Archive

Switzerland's accord with Germany on the issue of flights over southern Germany was being seen on Tuesday as a major defeat for the Swiss. Swissair warned the agreement could have serious consequences for its business.

This content was published on April 24, 2001 minutes

Under the terms of the accord - reached after five hours of talks in Berlin between the Swiss transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, and his German counterpart, Kurt Bodewig - flights over southern Germany will be reduced by 35 per cent, from the current annual figure of nearly 150,000 to 100,000.

Night flights over German territory between 2200 and 0600 will also be banned from September 1, and a reduction in flights on weekends and bank holidays is to be phased in by autumn 2002.

The new limits on flight numbers will only be brought in after 41 months, meeting a demand by the airport authorities in Zurich.

Leuenberger put a brave face on the outcome, saying he was "very happy" to have reached agreement. He admitted that Swiss negotiators had been forced to give ground, but said without a compromise the situation could have been a lot worse.

He said Germany could have single-handedly imposed restrictions on its airspace, forcing Switzerland to take the matter before the German courts, which would have resulted in "considerable uncertainty".

Swissair said the accord would lead to a drop in the number of planes using Kloten airport, scheduling difficulties over the weekend, and further delays.

A spokesman for Kloten airport described the deal as "unacceptable".

The reduction in flights over southern Germany means the authorities will have to organise 50,000 additional flight paths over Switzerland. "The domestic discussions are likely to be painful," admitted Leuenberger.

Swiss newspapers on Tuesday described the accord as a defeat for Switzerland, but were also highly critical of the authorities in canton Zurich and Zurich airport for not taking the issue seriously enough at a much earlier stage.

Under the headline: "Kloten can no longer export noise pollution to Germany," Geneva's "Le Temps" says Switzerland and Kloten are paying the price for their "arrogance" in not addressing the problem sooner.

Referring to the increased pollution likely in Switzerland, the TagesAnzeiger of Zurich complains: "Now we will get the filth". It adds: "Switzerland would have done better to heed Germany's concerns at a much earlier stage."

The "Der Bund" of Bern describes the accord as a blow for the newly privatised and expanding Kloten airport. But it says Switzerland had little room for manoeuvre in the negotiations because Germany, through legal measures, would have been able to force concessions after June.

The tabloid "Blick", banging a nationalist drum, says "Now the Germans will be able to decide when we can fly".

Monday's agreement ends months of failed negotiations between Bern and Berlin following the announcement a year ago that Germany was tearing up a long-standing transport agreement between the two countries at the end of May.

swissinfo with agencies

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