Bern is the Federal Capital of Switzerland and is a nice small city to visit. The airport is a bit far from the city center but it is connected by bus and train, and taxi is always an option. There are a couple of airline landings and departure per day but the airport is not that busy. It offers all possible facilities: controlled airspace, ILS and NDB approaches to runway 14, customs (remember, Switzerland is not in the European Union), restaurant, and a nice tower café… more on that later.
The main concrete runway is more than 1’500 meters long and there is one 600 meters parallel grass runway. VFR operations are quite straightforward and the VFR reporting points are easy to find… with the noticeable exception of “W”. This one is shown on the chart as the point where a motorway enters the city… but there is no clear “city boundary” in the real world. The FRI VOR / DME or your favorite GPS are your friends. Maintain a good watch of ATC and other traffics. Patterns exist on both sides of runway. The airport is located between hills that makes it a bit hard to spot but there is more than enough room for manoeuvers. Click here to see my video of a VFR arrival and departure from Bern.
After landing have an eye for your ground chart, your taxi clearance will be something like “Blue 3” or “Red 5”. The coloured lines do not start directly at each taxiway so a bit of preparation makes it much easier. Don’t forget to pay your approach, landing and parking fee before leaving the airport.
The IFR procedures are a bit complex, because of the surrounding hills. Approach starts at FRI or WIL, then to one of the 3 NDBs used for the approach, outbound and procedure turn to the final course. Bern Approach is radar equipped and usually provides radar vectoring. The trickiest thing is the IFR departure from runway 14. It starts with a left turn at 0.9 DME, then left back towards the NDB on the airport when passing 2’500 feet. This positioning results in a left turn parallel entry into the right-turns hold, and all gets very quickly. I got lost in this holding once, during my IFR training.
The local “hot spot” is the old tower, displayed on this picture behind the terminal, with the antenna on top. It has been reconverted in a small coffee shop. I never really understood the opening times, and it is often quite full, but it is really worth a visit.
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 Rhône Valley to Sion or continue to the south towards the Simplon and Lugano, or turn left and fly to Buochs, or Samedan.
The official Bern city website offers plenty of tourist information. The city’s name comes from the German “Baeren” which means Bears evolved to “Bern”. The city’s flag still shows a bear and one of the curiosities – which I can’t really call a must – is the bear pit (Baerengraben) in the old town, where two to three bears are living and can be seen. Click here for a YouTube video of the bears pit.