Swiftcopters SA : hero or villain

In an article in the Tribune de Geneva today, 16 December 2010, which examines the noise nuisance of helicopter flights in winter to ski stations, the Geneva company Swiftcopters is presented as a hero. However, not so long ago its Director was cast more as a villain!

Every winter there are a number of areas around Geneva airport where residents complain about low and noisy overflights by helicopters taking rich clients directly between the airport and the up-market ski stations. Today, 16 December 2010, the Tribune de Genève has a full page article on this problem, entitled "Les rotors de la colère" (the rotors which cause anger). The article discusses how the State of Geneva would like to limit overflights of Geneva territory.

The article makes a specific reference to Swiftcopters, the only company based in Geneva which provides many of the flights to these ski resorts, quoting their spokesman, Henri Landelle, as saying that their pilots are very strict in obeying regulations and avoiding densely-populated areas. This spokesman then states that this is not the case for certain companies. Although he does not name these companies, the statistics show that almost all of them are in France. Statistics for the first quarter of 2010 show the main ones to be HOLDING BLUGEON SAS, based in Morzine, followed by ARDEN ADVISORS SA and SA COMATRANS.

So is Swiftcopters the epitome of a company accepting all the regulations, whilst many of these foreign companies take a few short cuts? Not when we look back two years, to the time when Geneva Airport proposed a series of measures designed to impose certain restrictions, in particular to reduce peak numbers at weekends. The newspaper article explains how this was objected to by one (unnamed) company, who went to the federal tribunal with a complaint which was accepted. Result: the propositions of Geneva airport were binned!

So who objected to the proposals of the airport? Why, none other than Fabiano Forte, Director of Swiftcopters and president of the Geneva branch of the Christian Democrat political party, the PDC. Strange: I always think of PDC as standing for Party for the Development of Cointrin, so am a little surprised to see a region of conflict.

Another point, not mentioned in the article, is whether the trajectories can be checked after (or during) a flight. As has been confirmed by Geneva Airport authorities, helicopters do not always turn on their transponders when they are around the airport. The stated reason is that this can cause spurious possible collision warnings for normal fixed-wing aircraft ready to take off or land. The end effect is that, without an operational transponder, it is not possible for the radar at the airport to reconstruct the exact path of the flight.

I used to live somewhere which was frequently overflown by helicopters deviating ftom the published trajectories to be followed. My experience of complaining about these overflights made me realise how much of a correlation there was, and maybe still is, between helicopter flights taking a non-standard trajectory and ones with the transponder switched off.

As someone said recently (in connection with FIFA, regrettably), it is only illegal if you are caught!

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