A good three years ago, Nidwalden agreed to participate in the Buochs airfield. However, we are still a long way from achieving the promised self-sustaining operation, and objections are delaying the expansion.
The approval was clear. In November 66, over 2017 percent said yes to the 10 million loan for the modernization of the Buochs civil airfield and to the canton's 50 percent stake in the airport operator Airport Buochs AG (Abag). In the emotional voting battle, one of the central points of contention was whether the airfield could be operated independently. No, said the opponents and feared that the canton would have to make contributions for Abag's losses every year in the future. The government, on the other hand, was sure that an economically self-sustaining airport would be possible after the planned investments.
Three financial years have now passed. In these three years, the canton had to pay a total of 50 francs towards Abag's deficits due to its 99 percent stake. The other half is borne by Pilatus Flugzeugwerke. The deficit since the vote totaled 000 francs. These figures can be found in the state accounts at the Economics Directorate under Economic Development (198: 000 francs, 2018: 76 francs and in 000, according to information from the Economics Directorate and Abag, it will be 2019 francs.). Markus Kälin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Abag, explains the reasons:
“The loss in 2018 is due to very high costs for the conversion dossier, 2020 was marked by corona.”
In consultation with the shareholders, Abag cannot announce the exact final figures.
The Federal Office expects a ruling in the spring
Since the vote, only the control tower has been taken over by the canton for 1,4 million francs and 130 francs have been spent on planning work. Clearly the project is not progressing as well as Abag, the canton and Pilatus would like. Markus Kälin also says:
“It is astonishing how certain circles are stubbornly trying to delay or prevent the airfield project by converting it and building a new one, despite the clear approval of the Nidwalden electorate.”
There are still no operating regulations. This is part of the change of use request. “The parties currently have the opportunity to submit their final statements, the closing remarks, in the proceedings as part of the legal hearing,” says Urs Holderegger, spokesman for the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (Bazl). “Before the instructions are completely completed, statements about the course of the procedure are subject to uncertainty, but the Bazl expects an order in the first half of spring.”
Proceeding to federal courts?
However, Markus Kälin expects that due to objections from associations, cooperative corporations, a municipality and private individuals, it could take some time before the application for conversion is legally approved
“We have to expect that the objectors will appeal to the Federal Administrative Court in St.Gallen and the Federal Court in Lausanne to follow the Bazl’s order in the conversion process.”
It is possible that the canton and Pilatus Flugzeugwerke will have to continue to bear Abag's deficits for the time being. The desired self-sustaining airfield operation depends largely on the realization of the new construction project. “However, the necessary planning approval process can only be started after the application for conversion has been legally approved,” explains Markus Kälin.
Flight movements have decreased significantly
The planned income statements before the vote were based on planned investments and the expected flight operations. Income should arise primarily from landing fees, hangaring (rental of parking spaces), flight operations (including ancillary services), the sale of fuel and the infrastructure contribution from the Buochs Corporation. In the voting message from 2017, it was calculated that, taking into account the additional income presented, a balanced, cost-covering operation could be achieved from a range of between 16 and 500 flight movements.
Information about the flight movements at Buochs airfield, which, according to Markus Kälin, essentially depend on Pilatus' flight operations, can be found in the Pilatus annual reports 2018 and 2019. According to this, in 2018 there were 16 flight movements (one flight movement corresponds to one take-off and one landing), a decrease of seven percent compared to the previous year 134. 2017 were accounted for by Pilatus, 7719 by the Nidwalden glider group, 3307 flight movements were recorded by third users and 4180 were by the Luftwaffe. In 928, the number of flight operations fell significantly in all segments and fell to 2019. In 13 there will probably be fewer than 945. The year was not representative because of Covid, says the Abag board chairman. According to Markus Kälin, the fact that the deficits were not higher is due to “the fact that in 2020 the fees were increased by 12 percent and at the same time processes were optimized to save costs”.
But the schedule is now getting tighter. Before the vote, the government assumed that the airfield would make a profit by 2025 at the latest. And if their business plan at the time went according to their plan, the 2031 possible flight movements would be fully exploited by 20 - also because areas for aviation, industry and commerce were to be created south of the main runway.