Confronted with some of the most extreme situations, Air Zermatt’s helicopter pilots have helped play a crucial role in making this exceptional company, which has been awarded multiple Heroism Awards, famous around the world.
Injured alpinists abandoned at high altitudes recognize the approaching sound of an Air Zermatt helicopter as a small miracle. Founded in 1968 to respond to emergency situations in the valley and the mountains, the company has since diversified their services to include resupplying mountain huts, high-altitude construction, touristic flights, shipping, and heliski flights to help finance the lower-revenue rescue component of their business.
A year unlike any other
2020 began with a bang. Between January and March, Air Zermatt carried out over 600 rescue operations, which would have set them on course for an annual average of 1,800 missions. But then the lockdown led to a dramatic reduction in activity. In the Spring, "only three patients who had Covid-19 had to be evacuated from Zermatt and brought to hospitals in the region," explained Gerold Biner, who’s been Air Zermatt’s CEO for more than a decade. Then, starting in May, a slow return to normal life saw an uptick in the number of red and white helicopters flying to and from the Kumme gondola construction site, which connects Tufternkehr and Rothhorn, and will replace the former lift that was destroyed in a 2018 avalanche.
Wanting to contribute to a reboot of local tourism, Air Zermatt went all in this summer by offering a 10% discount on regularly-priced panoramic flights. As a result, some 160 people per day had the opportunity to rub shoulders with the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa aboard an Air Zermatt helicopter. The year has been difficult for us all, but Air Zermatt has made out remarkably well all things considered, with business revenues "only" being reduced by 25-30%.
Simulator and accolades
At no time did the company lose sight of their future ambitions. The merger with Air-Glaciers, the other major player in Swiss mountain rescues and helicopter flights, had already helped the company realize some important economies of scale, even if the two companies continue to operate their own aircraft under their own brands. To make the most of the lockdown, Air Zermatt also modernized and refreshed their Zermatt terminal. They invested in an experimental flight simulator, developed in partnership with the Swiss branch of VR-Motion, an American company. The goal? To build a highly specific and precise training tool for mountain flights and rescue operations.
Although they must " first get through the health crisis," as Gerold Biner temporized, all other indicators are looking positive for the company. The big boss himself was in the limelight this summer when the Divisionär F.K. Rünz Foundation awarded him their highest distinction, the Rünzi Prize, given each year by the council to someone who has performed outstanding services for the canton of Valais. The prize is yet another example that speaks to the character and spirit of Air Zermatt and its team of Mattertal Valley guardians.