EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg: A bi-national Airport

EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg

Probably the only bi-national airport located in two separate countries.

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Hello my fellow IFC members,

Today I want to tell you about the airport in my hometown, Basel in Switzerland. It’s not entirely correct when I say the airport in Basel because our airport is unique. It is so special that it’s probably the only airport in the world with this “extra.” EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg is an airport serving three cities in three countries while being located in two separate countries.

Key Summary

IATA Code BSL, MLH & EAP
ICAO Code LFSB & LSZM
Airport Type International
Owner France & the Swiss canton of Basel-City
Location 3.5km out of Basel (Switzerland), 20km out of Mulhouse (France) & 46km out of Freiburg (Germany)
Opening Date May 8th, 1946
Passengers 8’578’064 (2018)
Terminals 2 (One Swiss, one French)
Runways 08/26 (1819m) & 15/33 (3900m)

A short excursion in the history of the airport
Plans to build an airport in the area of Basel started in the 1930s as Basel was seen as one of four focus cities in Switzerland to build an airport. The others were Geneva, Berne, and Zurich. After World War 2, talks between Switzerland and France that were postponed because of the war continued as there was no place in the Swiss area of Basel where an airport would fit in but also because French didn’t have any significant commercial airport in the area as well. The decision was made that France would provide the land, while the canton of Basel-City would cover the construction costs. Constructions began in March 1946, and the first provisional runway opened three months later. The runway of 1’200m was then further extended in 1951 and 1972 it got to its current length of 3’200m. Later, in 2005, the extension of the old terminal was completed.

EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg was the main hub for the Swiss airline “Crossair.” By 1998, almost 3 million passengers flew out of or arrived at the airport. When in 2001 Swissair, the major airline of Switzerland filed for bankruptcy though, and Crossair was transferred into Swiss International Airlines, the number of flights from the airport fell as the main hub for Swiss wasn’t in Basel anymore, but in Zurich even though the headquarters of Swiss remain in Basel until today. The new terminal remained underused until 2004 when a new player showed up. The European low-cost carrier “easyJet” opened a hub in Basel, and they stayed until today. The number of passengers recovered.

A tri-national airport in two countries


This picture of a map clearly shows what makes EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg so special. The airport is located in France, but it is serving three cities in three countries. It’s not only that the airport is located physically in France; it is still a part of Switzerland as well. At least sort of.

The airport is located entirely in France. However, it has a Swiss customs area connected to Basel. That means that you don’t need to cross any border when traveling from Basel (Switzerland) to the airport which is located in France. This area customs area is one single road of 2.5km (marked in green on the map). The only destination you can reach via that road is the Swiss terminal of the airport. If you want to travel to the French side, you need to get off the road, get on the highway, cross the French border, and arrive on the other side.

This only works because the airport has two terminals. One terminal is a Swiss customs area, and the other one belongs to France. The only way to get from the Swiss terminal to the French terminal by car is to travel back to Basel and get on the highway. The other option is to transfer on foot. This is possible because there is a border checkpoint located directly in the airport.

Now, before Switzerland was part of the Schengen zone which allows free movement without passport checks and border controls within the member countries, you needed to get through passport control when crossing from the Swiss to the French side and back. I remember doing that. Nowadays there are no controls anymore as Switzerland is part of Schengen now; however the borderline and the checkpoints still do exist. Thanks to Schengen, it is now possible to use both terminals to check in for your flight.

Due to its international status, the airport has three IATA codes and two ICAO codes:

IATA BSL Basel, Switzerland
IATA MLH Mulhouse, France
IATA EAP EuroAirport, Neutral
ICAO LFSB France
ICAO LSZM Switzerland

LFSB is the ICAO code that is usually used, as the airport is located in France and ATC is being handled by French authorities as well. However, they use BSL as the IATA code as the main terminal is the Swiss one.

Departing and Arriving in Basel
As mentioned, the airport building is split into two separate sections – Swiss and French. Though the whole airport is on French soil and under French jurisdiction, the Swiss authorities have the authority to apply Swiss laws regarding customs, medical services and police work in the Swiss section, including the customs road connecting Basel with the airport. However, French police are allowed to execute random checks in the Swiss section as well. That’s why you will see the police forces of both countries at the airport.

Both Swiss and French custom agents staff immigration at the airport. That’s why when traveling to Basel, you will either get a French or a Swiss stamp on your documents.

Besides that, BSL is pretty much just a regular airport. It has two security checkpoints, one on the Swiss side and one on the French side. Nowadays it doesn’t matter which side you choose, thanks to Schengen. Both checkpoints lead to the same terminal. If you’re lucky and you’re flying Business Class, you might be able to visit the world famous SkyView lounge at the airport, a two-time winner of the Priority Pass Global Lounge Award of the Year and a four-time winner of the European equivalent.

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All in all, Basel is a very convenient airport to fly from and to arrive at. There is a bus connecting the airport to the city of Basel. It takes about 15 minutes, and you’re directly in the city center. Usually, you can get through security pretty fast, and there are some shops and restaurants located in the terminals as well.

The only inconvenience the airport has at the moment is the immigration process which is staffed by authorities of both countries but is handled by the French (let’s blame them). Normally, there are four staffed counters. Now at one time per day, there are four planes arriving from a non-Schengen airport at once. That means that you have around 500-600 passengers waiting at four immigration desks. This can take a while, but the airport management already promised improvements.

Airlines and Airplanes departing from Basel
Let’s remember; it is not Heathrow we are talking about here. That’s why there are not too many spotting-worthy planes flying at the airport, but from time to time we get some unique visitors. The reason for that is the company JetAviation, which is located in Basel. They specialized in customizing VIP jets. Some regular guests are Boeing 747 from Qatar or the VAE. The airport is also being used for approach and landing tests by Airbus. Both the A380 and the A350 did perform approach tests in Basel. Another guest we have from time to time is a Syrian Antonov An-12. The Antonov AN-225 also visited Basel once. It’s not getting boring; let’s put it that way.

Anything Else?
I don’t want to write a novel here, but I think I got you a pretty good knowledge of the airport and what makes it so special. I see EuroAirport as a very convenient choice. Besides the immigration process, it is fast and efficient. It offers routes to many destinations all over Europe, and even one flight to Montréal, Canada, thanks to an AirTransat A321LR.

If you’re ever traveling to Switzerland: Basel is an excellent alternative to Zurich, and thanks to the Bus connection which gets you to the train station in no time, you can get to Zurich, Berne or Lucerne within 90 minutes after leaving the airport.

Thanks for your time, happy landings and if you got any questions: ask!
Marc


Sources:
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19 Likes

I feel like having two ICAO codes and three IATA codes might get a bit confusing.

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I Really enjoyed reading that! Amazing job!
I had no idea you guys had those special visitors!

In Google Maps I Saw that there was a border control, in France, on a road that went to the Basel-EuroAirport road. I read above that you can only access the airport (coming from Basel) through the road, but after seing that border control in France I have a question:
Can you use that road, then turn to the border control and be in French territory, out of the Swiss customs?

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This is a very nice and interesting post! It is quite fascinating, how Switzerland and France worked things out!

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Thanks for the question and compliments! So here’s how it works. This is a detailed screenshot of the border:

As you can see, there are two roads. The big one on the right hand side is the main highway which leads to France. You can actually see the border checkpoint there. To get there, you drive take a right hand turn on the roundabout you can see there.

The left road which you can get on by taking the exit on top of the roundabout is the Swiss customs area. This roads leads to the Swiss part of the airport and the airport only. On the left and right hand side on the road there are fences, so there is no way to cross over to France and bypass a border checkpoint 😊

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It is! But not everything works so smoothly. There has been a year-long fight over telecommunication at the airport that wasn’t settled until 2016.

Basically, the issue was that Swiss telecom providers installed antennas at the airport so guests at the Swiss terminals could receive a Swiss phone signal. The problem was that this is against French law according to which only French antennas are allowed to stand on French soil.

The Swiss said, that the Swiss part of the terminal is a Swiss customs zone so they should have the right to put their antennas there. The France said, that despite the customs zone the airport is still located entirely on French soil.

In the end the French won (for once) and the Swiss providers needed to remove their equipment. Since then, you can only receive the signal of French providers at the airport.

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I live in Montreal! I’m so happy that Air Transat operates direct flights to Basel from their hub, CYUL. Besides, I love Air Transat 😍.

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I wasn’t talking about that one, but after going on street view I realized I wasn’t thinking correctly!

I was talking about this one, because seen from the Sattelite imagery it led me to believ it was some sort of small border control!


But now I Saw your reply and it cleared me up! Thanks for answering!

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