Key Points:

  • Zurich Airport has received authorization from the Zurich cantonal parliament to extend two of its runways towards the German border.

  • The government of Baden-Württemberg and local citizens’ initiatives express concerns that this extension may lead to more noise and increased air traffic.

  • The issue of noise pollution from Zurich-Kloten Airport has been a point of contention between German and Swiss authorities for decades, without a lasting resolution.

Baden-Württemberg Opposes Zurich Airport's Expansion Citing Increased Air Traffic

ZURICH — The historic dispute between Germany and Switzerland over noise pollution from Zurich-Kloten Airport is taking a new turn. The Zurich cantonal parliament has granted the airport permission to lengthen two runways, a decision that has heightened concerns in neighboring Germany's Baden-Württemberg region. The German community fears an increase in noise due to more frequent flights, as the runways stretch towards the German border.

The extension is expected to involve Runway 32, which currently measures 3,300 meters, extending it by 280 meters in a northerly direction. This particular runway is only 13 kilometers away from the German village of Hohentengen on the High Rhine. The Zurich cantonal parliament narrowly passed the measure, and it is anticipated that opposition groups may launch a referendum to challenge the decision.

The runway extension, according to the airport's management, will primarily facilitate take-offs of long-haul flights during morning and evening hours. However, this alteration is likely to increase noise in areas northwest and northeast of the airport, acknowledged Andreas Hasler, President of the Commission for Energy, Transport, and the Environment in the cantonal parliament. At present, these flights generally utilize Runway 34, which requires aircraft to cross the east-west Runway 28 and is less disruptive for the German community of Hohentengen.

Although the airport insists that the daytime experience for Hohentengen residents won’t change, German authorities are skeptical. Edgar Neumann, the spokesperson for Baden-Württemberg's Ministry of Transport, expressed concerns that "the number of take-offs and landings per hour will increase." The Ministry specifically foresees the noise inching closer to the district of Waldshut and particularly to Hohentengen, and possibly other southern Baden districts as well.

Contradicting this, the airport argues that the runway extensions will actually lead to fewer operational disruptions during German rest periods. It claims that extending the shorter Runway 28 by 400 meters to the west will permit more aircraft to land in adverse weather conditions, thereby preventing delays and operations after 11 pm.

Skepticism also exists among citizen initiatives, who question the airport's rationale that longer runways do not equate to increased capacity. They see the extension as part of a larger expansion plan at Zurich Airport, likely to have repercussions on noise levels and air traffic.

The longstanding disagreement over noise pollution from the airport has a complex history. Efforts to reach a bilateral treaty setting restrictions on air traffic over German territory have repeatedly fallen through, the most notable failure being the rejection by both Swiss and German parliaments in the early 2000s. Since then, Germany has enacted unilateral nighttime overflight restrictions, prompting the airport to adapt its flight patterns accordingly.