Sion Airport plans massive expansion, in talks with SWISS and easyJet
As families across the world prepare for the autumn school holidays, officials in Canton Valais are working on a new way for travellers to visit the Swiss mountains. According to a statement given to the media, plans are in the works to open up Sion Airport to large international flights with the aim of creating a new, fast way to reach Swiss ski resorts.
Authorities hope to turn Sion into the gateway to the Alps
According to a report given to Le Temps, the local council and authorities in Sion and Canton Valais are currently in discussions with international companies and airlines, with the aim of offering direct commercial flights from Sion Airport in the near future. Currently, the airport only plays host to private jets, a Helvetic Airways seasonal flight to Palma de Majorca and Air Mountain, a small airline that offers premium services to Rome, Corsica, Sardinia and Saint Tropez.
In the statement, the canton said it wants to make Sion Airport the “gateway to the Alps,” making it the fastest way to get to resorts in the surrounding mountains. Blick noted that ski resorts in the region have struggled to fill rooms in recent years, as holiday destinations like Crans-Montana are more than three hours away from Zurich by public transport and driving and more than two hours away from Geneva.
SWISS and easyJet in discussions with Canton Valais
Specifically, Sion Airport is in discussions with flag-carrier airline SWISS and easyJet regarding direct services from European destinations to Valais. Indeed, SWISS did launch a direct flight from London Heathrow to Sion in February 2017, although they were later scrapped due to the COVID pandemic.
However, before travellers start to book their next trip to the mountains, and the residents of Sion begin dreaming of fast connections to the rest of Europe, several obstacles have to be overcome. First, the steep mountains around the airport will curtail the number of flights able to land, and likely restrict the number of pilots certified to land there.
Then, Sion Airport remains contracted by the Swiss Army and Air Force, who will have to be consulted about any expansion plans and the disruption they may cause to military operations. However, according to Le Temps, local authorities are confident that this shouldn’t be a problem, as military activity in the area has been minimal since 2018.
Another issue is climate change. Blick questioned whether an airport for the Alps would be necessary in the future, given that some have predicted the end of many resorts in the area due to high temperatures and a lack of snow. According to the new report published in the journal Nature Climate Change, a 2-degree global warming rise will put 53 percent of European resorts at risk. If nothing further is done, the 1,5-degree climate warming threshold is expected to be breached by 2027.
Sion Airport plans commercial flights by 2027
Finally, and most crucially, airlines need to be on board with the plan. Speaking to Le Temps, easyJet Switzerland CEO Jean-Marc Thévenaz said that it was still “too early to say” whether a hub in Sion would be necessary, especially considering that larger airports in Milan and Geneva are only two hours away and would provide formidable competition with better infrastructure and connections.
Nevertheless, the city council of Sion said that it was determined to upgrade the airport, noting that the facility has been losing money ever since the Army reduced its presence in 2018. If all goes to plan, the airport will launch new direct services by 2027.
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