Handlers seek ways to avoid WEF crush at Zurich Airport

 - November 1, 2007, 5:22 AM

As it has in years past, the World Economic Forum (to be held in Davos, Switzerland, from January 23 through 27) will attract a number of high-ranking participants–probably more than the 2,400 registered during the last edition. Many of them will arrive by executive jet at Zurich Airport and proceed from there by road or helicopter to Davos. Zurich’s daily average of about 30 business-jet arrivals might more than double during the event. Slots and parking positions for aircraft waiting several days for the return of their passengers can be expected to be in short supply.

However, there is no shortage of airports in the area that can accommodate the traffic surge. In fact, executive aircraft handlers at Zurich have already made arrangements to ensure that nearby airports can bridge the gap between demand and capacity at Zurich. ExecuJet, the number-two handler of executive traffic at Zurich, has announced an agreement with the small St. Gallen-Altenrhein Airport, 60 miles east of Zurich, and with the military airfield of Duebendorf to accommodate the traffic.

St. Gallen-Altenrhein has tried for years to attract additional business traffic and sees congestion at Zurich during the World Economic Forum as an opportunity to become better known to pilots flying into eastern Switzerland. The airfield has a single 4,920-foot runway and a Category I ILS with lead-in lights and full runway lighting. There is no independent FBO, but the airport itself offers handling services with the help of local subcontractors. On-site customs clearance and weather briefing are also available. Altenrhein Aviation, an EASA/JAR Part 145 certified maintenance facility that is part of the Pilatus Group, is an authorized Gulfstream service center and offers line maintenance for visiting aircraft. With an average six daily business aircraft arrivals and limited scheduled services, the airport has plenty of free capacity.

While Altenrhein can serve as a destination in its own right, Duebendorf will accept only aircraft flown in by pilots without passengers for the purpose of parking for a few days. At press time, Duebendorf management had pledged to keep 10 parking spots available during the forum. That number is not enough to resolve the capacity squeeze.

The military is scheduled to withdraw from the airport between 2010 and 2014, and the business aviation community hopes that it will become a dedicated general aviation field. However, real estate developers are also focusing on that large piece of land just a few miles away from Zurich Airport. No final decision has been made yet about the future of the airport.

Jet Aviation, the largest executive aircraft handler at Zurich, said that in view of the limited additional capacity available at Duebendorf, it will send customer pilots and aircraft for the purpose of parking during the forum to other nearby airports where the company is equipped to provide services for crews and aircraft. It has facilities in Basel, Geneva and Lugano in Switzerland, and at five other airports in Europe.
Swissport, the airline handling company that opened a dedicated executive aircraft handling facility in Zurich in January, will also send customer aircraft to nearby airports with facilities for parking.

Other airports available to visitors attending the World Economic Forum are Samaden and Friedrichshafen. Samaden is closest to Davos but can be disrupted by snowfall. Friedrichshafen, located on the German bank of Lake of Constance, is well equipped and has a 7,730-foot runway. Its drawback for overseas visitors is that they might have to go through visa formalities for Germany and Switzerland.