Samedan (LSZS)

Samedan is the final moutainous airport in this series, after Sion and Saanen. Located in the eastern Swiss Alps, in a narrow valley, at 5’600 feet AMSL, Samedan is the highest airport in Europe (altiports and glacier landing places excluded). Whatever the season, landing up there is never simple and careful flight preparation is a must.

The arrival from “W” is impressive, and finding it in winter is not easy – this reporting point is overhead a mountain lake that gets frozen and snow covered. The arrival from the Albula pass is also memorable, as the valley to the pass is also quite narrow. Because the local relief does not offers a lot of alternatives it is important to study the weather in details so as not to get trapped below clouds in a valley, or be stuck on top before descent. In winter, don’t forget to call the airport to ensure that the runway is clear of snow and that parking is available. The parking area is not fully de-snowed in winter so make sur to get good information about how to taxi on snow – particularly if you fly with a retractable landing gear. A recent accident involving a Falcon jet and a snow-wall close to the runway highlighted the specificities of winter operations in Samedan.

Flying to Samedan in summer also requires good preparation, particularly regarding performance. The runway is rather long (1’800 meters) but with summer temparatures above 20°C, the density altitude can exceed 8’000 feet. Don’t expect a short take-off roll and steep climb out. Don’t assume that any single engine piston aircraft can safely take-off and climb with full load under such conditions. Leaning the mixture before take-off also makes sense as the airport is already above 5’000 feet.

The airport circuit is narrower than in Sion and there is no room to fly a base leg. Even with a continuous turn from downwind to final it is usual to overshoot the runway axis. A higher circuit is published for light twins and it makes sense to use if with certain high performance singles. Don’t forget that the single engine landing point is in the middle of the runway, not at threshold. Click here to see landing and take-off videos in a DA40. Note that the final turn is steeper than usual and beacause of relief there is no natural visual horizon. Keep enough speed to make the steeper turn possible…

The best part of each flight to Samedan is to pay the landing fee. The office also sells excellent Graubünden nut pies. Don’t miss them – no excuse will be accepted. Samedan is localted in the Graubünden region. There are numerous ski resorts around, including St-Moritz, Laax and Davos. The airport is intensively used during the World Economic Forum in Davos and is closed several days, usually in January, because of the forum.

All these specifities make a flight to Samedan a bit more difficult but good preparation makes is achievable for a well prepared pilot. Great alpine flying rewarded by a nice landing there and a nut pie makes a perfect day.

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  1. Bern (LSZB) - August 14, 2009

    […] Bern is located directly north of the Alps and is a good base-camp if you plan a visit to Switzerland and some alpine flying. The Jungfraujoch and Aletsch glacier are 30 miles to the south-east and from there you can descend the Rh

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