I always liked flying to Les Eplatures (a.k.a. Lezep). It is the first airport discovered “all by myself” after getting my PPL and it is the last place where I renewed my IFR beore leaving Switzerland. Located in the center of the Jura mountain range, at the Swiss – France boundary in north-western Switzerland, it’s a good entry point for flying in Switzerland.
Les Eplatures is at 3’300 feet, in a mountainous area. The Jura range is not as peak-ish as the Alps, but some precautions are required, the first one being to get informed about runway status before departure. Check NOTAMs / SNOWTAMs before departure, preferably same day. The airport is well equipped but if more than one meter of snow falls within the night, don’t expect it to be open at 8am… Copies of the Swiss AIP pages for both VFR and IFR are publised on the website, but they are not for operational use. These winter conditions can start as early as October and last until end of April.
The second tip relating to altitude is about performance. Take-off and landing distances increase with altitude and climb performance is reduced. The runway is 1130 meters long and even if some light jets and turboprops operate there, you should not simply assume that your single engine piston can do it with all seats occupied.
Les Eplatures is a controlled (US readers, understand towered) airport. If you depart VFR, don’t miss the climb-out via “La Vue des Alpes”, literally “Sight of the Alps”. On unlimited visibility days, it’s memorable. The IFR approach and departure service is provided by “Geneva Delta”. The IFR procedures are as in the text books, nothing special. A full ILS and a NDB / DME procedures are published. There are buildings really close to the airport on final for runway 24. The very last picture below has been taken from during a normal approach, without any special zoom…
It is possible to depart IFR from Les Eplatures but if weather permit a joining en-route can save you some time. Depending of the runway in use and availability of military airspace, some SIDs call for a climb to FL110 in the holding pattern.
Les Eplatures is located between the cities of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle. This is heart of the Watch Valley, where many Swiss watches factories are based. La Chaux-de-Fonds is also known as the birthplace of Le Corbusier, the well known architect. It is the sole city in Switzerland whose urbanism is based on parallel streets, giving it a somewhat American look.
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