Swiss airport gets international safety status
GENEVA (Reuters Life!) - Switzerland's Sion airport in the heart of Alpine ski and summer mountain touring country has won top-level safety status putting it on the same level as major international hubs.
The decision came from the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and means there are now five Swiss airports meeting the United Nations agency's standards for handling regular passenger flights.
"This is important for us, as it will make it easier to attract new traffic to Sion," the airport's deputy director Patricia Fellay told Reuters. "They will now know that landing and taking off here is as safe as anywhere."
Currently Sion, in the Rhone valley between two ranges of the Alps, handles just under 30,000 passengers a year and around 28,000 planes, from medium-range business jets through small company aircraft to helicopters and single-seater private planes.
But it can take planes carrying up to 120 passengers, said Fellay.
One small British charter company flies there regularly in the winter but most flights are by private owners, both Swiss and foreign, or by Swiss and foreign business firms.
There are no plans to expand the airport, which is also a base for rescue planes serving mountain areas and training for Swiss airforce pilots. "But the infrastructure is already here for more flights," Fellay said.
It is close to the city of Sion, capital of the Valais canton and a picturesque fortress town. It is also a gateway to major international Alpine centers like Zermatt, Crans-Montana, Saas-Fee and Verbier, and popular thermal baths.
The other Swiss airports holding the ICAO safety seal -- given for top-class snow-clearing, plane defrosting, fire control and refueling capacities -- are Zurich, Geneva, Berne and St.Gallen's Altenrhein.
(Editing by Steve Addison)
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