Switzerland’s smaller airports want more business traffic

EBACE Convention News » 2007
May 9, 2007, 10:20 AM

Spurred by representatives from St. Gallen/Altenrhein Airport, five other smaller Swiss airports–at Bern, Buochs, Lugano, Samaden and Sion–have launched an attempt to secure a larger share of the country’s business aviation traffic.

As part of their promotional effort, the six are jointly exhibiting here at EBACE’07 under the name Swiss Business Airports (Booth No. 1257). They have also scheduled a meeting for representatives of business airports, FBOs and related service providers here at PalExpo on Thursday morning (9 a.m. to noon in Hall 1, Room 1), which it hopes will lead to the formal establishment of a common organization.

The bulk of Switzerland’s business traffic currently flies to Zurich and Geneva, where airline traffic is also concentrated, creating a capacity squeeze. Switzerland’s third largest airport, Basel Euro-Airport, actually is located on French territory and serves a highly industrial area populated by pharmaceutical giants such as Novartis and Roche. Its scheduled movements consist largely of regional airline traffic.

While their smaller competitors may lack some of the infrastructure and the level of service which is standard at Switzerland’s larger airports, capacity will inevitably get short on peak days at Zurich and Geneva if business aviation and airline operators continue their current growth rates. Both airports have seen a strong increase in airline traffic in recent years but have little room for capacity increases. Geneva has only one runway and no room for more, and Zurich has traffic restrictions imposed by neighboring Germany, where incoming aircraft fly low over inhabited territory.

Zurich had to turn away traffic for lack of parking space during the recent World Economic Forum, held at the exclusive resort of Davos. As much as 20 percent
of traffic at Geneva is business aviation, while the proportion of this category of activity at airline-hub Zurich is just 8 percent.

In these circumstances, smaller airfields with no slot problems and plentiful parking space hope to absorb some of the growing business traffic.

The six Swiss Business Airports exhibiting at EBACE are located in two of the country’s most prosperous and dynamic business areas and offer the requisite infrastructure demanded by executive travelers.

The small airports most likely to pick up executive traffic spilling over from Zurich and Geneva are St. Gallen/Altenrhein and Bern. St. Gallen claims 35-percent growth of business aviation in 2006 versus 2005, a trend that has continued into the first quarter of this year. The airport has reported that it now has an average of nine daily executive aircraft departures. These included a recent direct 5,100-nm flight of a Gulfstream V from Van Nuys, California, to St. Gallen, proving the airport’s suitability for large executive aircraft.

The airport is located an hour’s drive east of Zurich. It offers a good alternative to executive travelers doing business on that side of the city, or generally in northeastern Switzerland.

Bern Airport is located roughly midway between Zurich and Geneva and, as a gateway to Switzerland’s capital city, receives significant volumes of government-related traffic. Its only scheduled traffic is by regional airline, so there are no slot problems and there is sufficient parking space for aircraft.

The airport had an average of 27 daily departures of executive and government flights last year. Many business centers west of Zurich or east of Geneva are within less than an hour’s drive from Bern.

Samaden, located close to the world-renowned resort of St. Moritz, mostly attracts high-end tourists. However, as it is located high up in the mountains, it has frequent weather problems during the winter.

Sion, giving access to skiing resorts such as Zermatt, is in a similar situation. Having no scheduled traffic, both Samaden and Sion have a high proportion of business aviation flights in their traffic profiles.

Buochs, in central Switzerland, is home to aircraft manufacturer Pilatus, but industrial development of the area generally is not as great as elsewhere in the country. The main attraction of the area is the Alps, drawing enthusiastic mountain climbers and skiers.

Lugano, in southern Switzerland, is far from both Zurich and Geneva, but close to a financial center and the prosperous region of northern Italy. However, the airport itself is located in a challenging environment, being almost completely surrounded by mountains. It is open only to pilots with special training for its steep instrument approach.

The common aim of all these airports is to capture a share of the increasing business aviation traffic. Several of them have expansion projects under way or planned to improve infrastructure and to cope with the traffic they expect to attract.

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