WEF traffic portends capacity woes

 - March 7, 2007, 10:07 AM

The World Economic Forum (WEF), held every year in January at the alpine resort of Davos, Switzerland, attracts an impressive number of high-ranking politicians and heads of large companies from all over the world. This year’s event attracted 2,400 participants, including 24 heads of state. Most of them arrived at Zurich Airport in executive aircraft and traveled to Davos in limousines or helicopters.

Zurich attracted the bulk of WEF traffic. During the 10-day WEF period (including three days before and after the event) the traffic underscored capacity problems likely to plague Zurich in the future.

Executive traffic at Zurich is handled by Jet Aviation, ExecuJet and Swissport’s dedicated executive handling station. The oldest FBO at Zurich, Jet Aviation has the most traffic. According to station manager Robert Whitehead, the company handled 5,625 aircraft in Zurich last year, an average of some 470 per month.

During the 10-day period of WEF, Jet Aviation handled 333 aircraft, well over twice the average.

ExecuJet, number two at Zurich Airport, handled 130 visiting aircraft for the 10-day period, putting it well ahead of its monthly average of 250.

Swissport Executive Aviation also reported that the number of aircraft it handled increased significantly during WEF but it has no basis for year-to-year comparison because it opened this year.

Parking Crunch
Lack of parking space is hampering peak-day operations at Zurich. During the WEF period, all three FBOs had to send away executive aircraft after disembarking passengers to seek parking space at other airports, including Basel, Geneva and Bern, as well as Munich and London Luton. With executive traffic
at Zurich growing–Jet Aviation mentions an annual increase of 20 percent–it appears that the airport’s parking capacity will have to be extended.

Before the forum, organizers hoped that the Swiss Air Force would open its nearby Duebendorf air base to accommodate executive aircraft waiting for their passengers. This did not happen, apparently because the request was not filed in time. The air force has removed its fighters from Duebendorf, but keeps the base open for operating helicopters. It is anticipated that the military will leave the base altogether soon, allowing Duebendorf to become a dedicated airport for executive aircraft. However, real estate interests covet the land, and nearby residents have already announced their opposition for fear of noise. It will probably be a long fight to keep the airport open for executive aviation.