Southern German counties and municipality challenge Zurich Airport with Chatham Partners

Appeal proceedings before Swiss Federal Administrative Court successful

In its judgement of 7 September 2021, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court has largely sustained the appeals lodged by the German counties of Constance, Schwarzwald-Baar-Kreis and Waldshut as well as the municipality of Hohentengen a. H. in in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg against the partial approval of the 2014 operating regulations for Zurich Airport. In the long-standing dispute against Zurich Airport and the noise pollution caused by the use of that infrastructure even to the extent aircraft limit their approaches to and starts from that airport to the air space of Switzerland, the German complainants, with the help of Chatham lawyers Dr Marco Núñez Müller, LL.M. (Col.) and Dr Christos Paraschiakos, were now able to achieve a notable success in a Swiss court for the first time. The Swiss Federal Administrative Court to a large extent annulled the partial administrative operating approval which the Swiss government had granted to Zurich Airport.

The court based its ruling, inter alia, on the fact that the noise pollution between 10 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. is in part not mapped correctly in the Sectoral Plan for Aviation (SIL) and in part based on outdated assumptions about the delay situation at the airport. The SIL is the legal basis for the operating regulations and for the approach and departure routes. In the opinion of the court, the aforementioned deficiency results in the areas affected by noise not being correctly represented. The court therefore annulled the determination of the permissible noise immissions as well as the exceptions granted to the airport by the Swiss authorities.

An appeal against the ruling can be lodged with the Swiss Federal Supreme Court within 30 days. If the current ruling becomes final and non-appealable, however, the sectoral plan authority will have to deal in particular with the delay situation between 11.00 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. and redefine the noise impact. The Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (BAZL) will also have to reinvestigate the facts with regard to the noise situation at night.

This court case is part of a decades-old struggle of counties and municipalities in Southern Germany against the extensive use of German air space for approaches and landings to and from Zurich Airport.

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