Paragliding, basejumping, kite flying… Switzerland attracts fans of aerial sports from all over the world. Our mountains offer a huge playground for every thrill-seeker. Flight schools, foreign buyers, manufacturers, but also events and competitions, an entire economic sector is flourishing in the Swiss sky.
Every year, at the end of August, Villeneuve (VD) hosts a colorful show:. With more than 10 years of existence, this event is a mecca for sports in the air. On average, 30,000 spectators visit this free show. For three days, almost 150 international professionals who come to fly over Lake Geneva watch.
The headliner of the event is Géraldine Fasnacht. Wingsuit champion, winged combination, she shines around the world with her impressive performances in the air. The Swiss woman talks about her attachment to Switzerland for the Basik show: “Three quarters of our country is covered with mountains. It’s an extraordinary playground. We couldn’t have dreamed better. We have access to trains, cable cars all over the country.”
With a total budget of 250,000 francs raised by a non-profit association, Acroshow is one of the largest aerobatic flying festivals in the world.
Interlaken, paragliding mecca
But beyond the spectacular aspect of these sports, there is real business. The epitome of this highly profitable market is Interlaken, the paragliding mecca of Switzerland. Tourists from all over the world come to the city of Bern throughout the year, mainly to treat themselves to a two-seater paragliding flight. The basic price for this activity is 150 francs, not including photos or hotel pickup options.
“We can have a little more Indians in the spring, we have a little more Arabs during the summer and we have Koreans all year round. We have Americans, we have practically the whole planet,” explains Fabrice Pini, a professional paragliding pilot. Employed as a freelancer, he transports tourists continuously throughout the year.
Tourists landing in two-seater paragliders in Interlaken in 2015. (Dominic Steinmann – Keystone)
As many as 65,000 paraglider landings were recorded in 2022 at Höhemate, a park in the center of Interlaken. That number could have been higher, as Tom Wagner, CEO of Paragliding Interlaken explains: “Five years ago, all the companies got together. We set a limit on the number of flights we are allowed to do. It’s too dangerous if there are too many pilots in the air.”
20,000 members in Switzerland
There are tourists, but not only. The largest air sports federation in Switzerland has 20,000 members, a figure that has increased by 20% in the last ten years. The growth is partly due to the evolution of equipment.
There are several paraglider designers in Switzerland, for example in Grandvaux, in the canton of Vaud. Alexandre Paux’s company produces 900 to 1000 paragliding sails per year. Artisanal production compared to about thirty manufacturers in the world. It mainly sells this equipment to paragliding schools in Switzerland and abroad.
“Current growth is happening more in new markets like China, India or Iran. Growth in Europe is practically over,” he says. If it intends to maintain its production rate, the air sports market is not yet done taking off. With Switzerland in first place.
>> Watch the reportage at 19:30 about the 2022 edition of Acroshow: