The Zurich airport is the 14th busiest airport in Europe. It is located eight miles north of downtown Zurich in Switzerland. The airport is privately owned although the local municipality does hold a significant number of shares in the company. The airport became operational in 1948 nearly 25 years after the first airline flights started to depart from Switzerland. The airport was officially opened to the public in 1953. The opening celebrations included an air show that drew large crowds and lasted for three full days.
Plans for new construction at the airport were first submitted just three years after opening to the public. The first improvements that were planned were a second terminal and an additional runway. The Zurich Airport would undergo constant expansion between the 1960s and the 1970s. Flights to the United States and other distant locations started to make the airport very popular. Not all of the plans for expansion were accepted. Local officials who would vote on the proposed projects sometimes rejected expansion plans because of cost or other concerns. The final result of the expansions was the development of three primary runways, three terminal buildings, multi-level parking structures and facilities for freight and general aviation.
There are four runways at Zurich Airport. Three are suitable for commercial airliners while one is much shorter and reserved for general aviation flights. The longest runway is over 12,000 feet long. The middle runway is just over 10,000 feet long. The shortest commercial runway is 8,200 feet long. The fourth general aviation runway is just over 3,700 feet in length. The runways are monitored from a control tower that was constructed in 1986. The tower stands over 130 feet tall. The airport is able to accommodate nearly any size aircraft although there are local political issues that prevent certain types of planes from landing.
Zurich Airport is incredibly busy throughout the year. The airport saw more than 24 million passengers in 2011. This number has been increasing every year. There were 279,000 aircraft arrivals and departures in 2011. The airport processed 415,035 tons of freight during the same period of time. This does not include the over 32,000 tons of mail that passes through the airport annually. It is estimated that the airport is currently operating at 72 percent of total capacity meaning that it might be necessary to start new expansion plans in order to keep up with future demand.
Terminals & Accomplishments
Zurich Airport currently has three terminals available. Terminal E is the newest addition. It is located in the middle of the airfield and provides travelers with a relaxing environment and an observation deck that overlooks the surrounding scenery. Arrivals at each terminal are handled on the ground floor. Check-ins and departures take place on the next level up. The terminals are home to over 130 different businesses including retailers and airlines. Each of the terminals and most gates are connected by the Skymetro rail service. The Skymetro is an underground train servicing the airport that leaves every three to five minutes. It takes two minutes at most to reach any single destination on the line.
The Zurich Airport has received the World Traveler award for Best European Airport nine years in a row including 2012. One persistent issue that has caused some complications at the airport is the dispute over noise between Germany and Switzerland. The dispute about the noise of aircraft passing through German airspace started in 2000. This resulted in a treaty that was signed restricting the number of flights into the airport during nighttime and early morning hours. The dispute has caused some inconveniences for the airport. The issue is currently being assessed by an independent body of experts hired by the European Union.
Airlines Serving Zurich Airport
As the largest airport in Switzerland, Zurich Airport is the main hub for the Swiss flag carrier airline. Swiss International Air Lines connects Zurich with more than 30 other destinations worldwide. The Swiss flag carrier takes passengers to major European cities like Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Lisbon, Madrid, London, Oslo, Rome, Paris, Stockholm, and Vienna. Swiss International Air Lines also offers short distance flights to neighboring countries through the service of other regional airlines such as Helvetic Airways and Swiss European Air Lines. Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hanover, Munich, and Stuttgart are major German destinations that are included in the regional service offered by Switzerland’s largest airline.
Passengers in Zurich Airport can also count on Swiss International Air Lines for reliable long distance flights to destinations outside of Europe. Beijing, Bangkok, Delhi, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Tokyo are major Asian destinations listed on the timetables of the Swiss flag carrier. Offering flights to Cairo, Dubai, and Tel Aviv, Switzerland’s national airline also links Zurich with major Middle Eastern cities. Transatlantic flights to the Americas are also available via Swiss International Airlines. Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Sao Paulo are major cities in the American continents that are directly accessible through this busy Swiss carrier. Swiss International Air Lines passengers have to use the Check-in 1 and Check-in 3 areas of the terminal complex in Zurich Airport.
Another major domestic airline that is based at Zurich Airport is Edelweiss Air. This Swiss charter airline primarily offers flights to popular resorts all over the world. Antalya, Lesbos, Mallorca, Dubrovnik, Olbia, Rhodes, and Crete are major destinations within the Mediterranean region that are part of the Edelweiss Air service. Resorts in Brazil, Dominican Republic, and Mexico are also accessible through this busy Swiss charter carrier. About half of the flights operated by Edelweiss Air are offered during selected seasons throughout the year.
The only international airline that uses Zurich Airport as a hub is Air Berlin. Germany’s second biggest airline company connects Zurich with popular Mediterranean destinations in Italy, Spain, and Egypt. More than a dozen other major European airlines serve Zurich Airport. The list of European flag bearers includes Aer Lingus, Alitalia, British Airways, Finnair, Lufthansa, Iberia, KLM, and Scandinavian Airlines.
Depending on the flight, the airlines at Zurich Airport use the gates in concourse A, B and D for departures. The gates in the separate Concourse E building are linked to the main terminal complex via a dedicated Skymetro service.