Reporting of noise-related costs in the financial statements
Costs for formal expropriations qualify as an intangible asset under the accounting provisions of the Swiss Code of Obligations. They are recognised as assets at the latest on the date on which the counterparty has attained an assertable claim. Amortisation of capitalised costs for formal expropriations is based at a minimum on the consolidated financial statements. Adequate provisions are recognised for current liabilities arising from sound insulation and resident protection measures. Any balance of revenue from noise charges after deduction of noise-related costs (compensation for formal expropriations, sound insulation and resident protection measures, operating costs, financing costs and amortisation) is transferred to the provision for aircraft noise (see note 10, Provision for aircraft noise).
With respect to formal expropriations, the reporting of noise-related costs in the financial statements is a complex matter due to a multitude of relevant legal bases, unclear or pending case law and political debate. Especially in the case of formal expropriations, this financial reporting requires significant assumptions and estimates concerning the capitalisation of such costs and the obligation to recognise appropriate provisions.
Flughafen Zürich AG has received a total of around 20,000 noise-related claims for compensation, of which around 5,800 were still pending at the end of 2020. Almost 700 of these cases are currently being examined by the Swiss Federal Assessments Commission.
The rulings by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court in the first half of 2008 on fundamental issues related to formal expropriations enabled Flughafen Zürich AG to estimate the total cost of compensation for formal expropriations for the first time, in spite of the remaining uncertainties regarding the accuracy of this estimate. In further rulings in 2010, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court definitively set the cut-off date for the foreseeability of an eastern approach as 1 January 1961 and, in 2011, it ruled definitively on the method used to calculate a decline in the market value of investment property. In 2016, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court handed down two rulings in test cases regarding claims for compensation relating to eastern and southern approach routes and, in 2018, it handed down two rulings in test cases regarding cooperative ownership. Based on these Swiss Federal Supreme Court rulings and other fundamental issues that have been decided, the company undertook a reappraisal of costs for formal expropriations at these dates, which in each case led to an adjustment to both the provision for formal expropriations and the intangible asset from the right of formal expropriation. On 22 November 2019, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court handed down a ruling in test cases regarding the period of limitation on claims for compensation in Oberglatt. This Swiss Federal Supreme Court ruling and other fundamental issues that have been decided enabled Flughafen Zürich AG to undertake a reappraisal of the outstanding cost of compensation for formal expropriations as at 31 December 2019.
With respect to sound insulation and resident protection measures, Flughafen Zürich AG is required to implement sound insulation measures in the area where it claims exemptions from noise limits (emission limit). In this context, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) has initiated a night-time noise abatement procedure. The area with exemptions under the Sectoral Aviation Infrastructure Plan adopted by the Federal Council on 23 August 2017 is to be extended. In 2018, the Board of Directors approved further sound insulation measures in this context.
As at 31 December 2020, Flughafen Zürich AG has recognised an intangible asset from the right of formal expropriation of CHF 27.2 million (2019: CHF 26.8 million) and a provision for aircraft noise of CHF 460.5 million in total (2019: CHF 473.4 million) in the financial statements in accordance with the provisions of the Swiss Code of Obligations.
Depending on future and final-instance legal judgements, especially with respect to the southern approaches, noise-related liabilities may in future be subject to substantial adjustments, which would also require adjustments to the noise-related costs recognised in the balance sheet. At the present time, it is not possible to reliably estimate the total costs to capitalise as an intangible asset from the right of formal expropriation, the resulting amortisation or the corresponding provision.