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Zurich airport threatens legal action against Germany

The number of flights over Germany is at the centre of the dispute


Zurich airport has heightened the war of words with the German government over their dispute about flights over southern Germany. Josef Felder, the chief executive of Unique Zurich Airport, told a news conference on Tuesday that he would consider legal action against Berlin if negotiations failed.

Germany has forced a renegotiation of the number of Swiss flights permitted to fly over its territory. It announced last May that it wanted changes to an agreement dating from 1984 which in recent years has seen the number of Swiss flights crossing southern Germany increase to around 140,000.

Berlin says this has led to intolerable noise levels for the local population.

If no agreement is reached with Bern, Germany is expected to issue a decree in June limiting the number of over-flights to 80,000 a year.

Pilots landing and departing Zurich are also facing an extended night-time flight ban and a general ban on crossing southern Germany at weekends.

Germany is threatening to impose fines on pilots and airlines ignoring the new rules.

Felder is still pinning his hopes on talks between the two governments but says he is ready to use the law to force Germany to give way.

"We hope the Swiss transport minister, Moritz Leuenberger, will find a solution when he meets his German counterpart next month," he said.

"But we have the law on our side and there is no reason for a ceiling to be imposed on Zurich airport,"he added.

Felder said Unique Zurich Airport might take Germany to the European Court if no political solution was forthcoming.

The row with Germany threatens Zurich's position as a central European hub as the airport continues its fifth expansion programme which will double the space dedicated to commercial and service activities by 2004.

The newly-privatised company also reported its first set of results on Tuesday.

Net profit declined in the year 2000, down 6.7 per cent to SFr89.8 million ($52.21 million). But this was put down to the fact the Unique was now fully responsible for the payment of taxes.

Profit before taxes increased 10 per cent to SFr113.2 million on turnover of SFr522.5 million.

The number of passengers using the airport last year increased by 8.4 per cent to 22.7 million, while 545,000 tonnes of freight passed through the airport.

Unique Zurich Airport said it expected turnover to be around SFr600 million this year, with an increased net profit.

The company also said it intends to exploit the sales potential offered by its operations, while at the same time substantially increasing its non-aviation business.

It also said that it didn't believe its operations would be hit by the problems facing the SAirGroup.

"Fortunately, the Swiss business of the SAirGroup is still going well and that's what we're most involved with," said Felder.

We have a lot of sympathy for them," he adds, "and we hope we can help them find a new strategy by providing a good hub at Kloten."

One of the priorities for the company in the current year will be to rid Zurich Kloten of its reputation for delays. A third of flights are more than 15 minutes late and Felder wants that reduced to a fifth by the end of 2002.

by Michael Hollingdale


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