Bruno Bagnoud is the grand patron of Air Glaciers, the Valaisan aviation company which had among its founders the famous glacier pilot Herman Geiger.
Son of a teacher from Valais and a nurse of the Canton Argau, Bruno Bagnoud was born in Crans s/Sierre/VS on February 23, 1935.
Until he was ten years old, he grew up in the village of Crans in Valais, and then in 1945, he moved with his family to Berne where his father got a new job after the war.
In the Swiss capital Bruno finished the compulsory school and then went to the gymnasium where he obtained his classical matura in 1954.
He was an active sportsman and played hand-ball, tennis, cross-country (he became Swiss champion) and obviously ski. Because of this natural interest and passion for sport he enrolled at the Ecole féderale de gymnastique et de sport in Macolin.
In 1961 he became a sport teacher and ski instructor. In May of that year he also obtained his private aeroplane pilot license after attending a flying course at the airport of Lausanne-Blécherette.
Then he shortly left Switzerland for six months and went to England to learn the language.
Between 1961 and 1964 he worked as a military officer and instructor of the Swiss granadiers (the élite corp of the Swiss Army). In 1963, in Valais, he obtained the license as mountain guide. In that period he had the opportunity to meet the famous Swiss glaciers pilots who deeply influenced his future career. Among them there were the famous Hermann Geiger and Fernand Martignoni.
A significant event took place in 1963, and it changed Bruno’s life forever. During an alpine guide course one of the men of the group fell on the Aiguilles Dorées, at an altitude of over 3’000 meters, and broke a leg. Some members of the group (among them Bagnoud) transported the injured mann down the valley, while others went to call for help. About two hours later Hermann Geiger arrived on the scene with his Bell 47J Ranger, but he couldn’t land because his helicopter was underpowered and the place where the group was waiting was not well suited for a safe landing. The injured man, who was suffering, was transported by foot for another while. Finally he was lifted onto the helicopter which was waiting not far from them. Geiger had in fact in the meantime found an ideal place to land on the Plat d’Orny and transported the injured to the hospital.
This accident persuaded the young Bagnoud to invest his energies in the creation of a new company equipped with modern aircrafts for the transportation of passengers and merchandise, which could also be employed for SAR operations.
During 1964 he continued his training as a pilot and on the 16th of August he got the extension which enabled him to land on mountains.
In Autumn he begun his training as a helicopter pilot trained by Geiger at the controls of the Agusta-Bell 47J3B-1 HB-XCA.
On November 27, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) issued him the private pilot licence nr. 58. On May 7, 1965 he then obtained the restrained license as a professional airplane pilot nr. 721.
Birth of Air Glaciers
The 1st of August 1965 is an unforgettable date for Bagnoud. In fact, on that day, Air Glaciers was officially set up. Nowadays, 50 years later, Bagnoud is still its president!
Under Bagnoud guidance, Air Glaciers grew rapidly over the next decades, eventually becoming the largerst aviation company in Switzerland.
In addition to his administrative tasks, Bagnoud continued to be trained by Geiger as a helicopter pilot, and on the 16th of November 1965 the young Valaisan entrepreneur obtained the commercial pilot license nr. 60.
Unfortunately, as an aviator but also in his private life, great moments of joy for his success were followed by great moments of discouragement because of the loss of people close to him due to flight accidents.
Among the losses that hit Bagnoud’s life and his company there are several of the most famous Swiss pilots such as the already mentioned Hermann Geiger and Fernand Martignoni.
However his most important loss was his first-born son François-Xavier, who lost his life at the age of 24 in a helicopter accident in Mali during the Parigi-Dakar rally in 1986.
Someone said while talking about him that what really distinguishes Bruno Bagnoud is his great strength of mind even in the worse moments.
Despite the fact that he has been retired for awhile now, he is always busy, and goes to his office everyday.
In February 2010, for his 75th anniversary, he did his last flight as a helicopter pilot. Joking he told me during the interview that "Now I can fly only with a flight instructor!".
During his long aviation career he logged altogether a considerable flight expericence: 5’281 hours of flight on airplanes and 8’169 on helicopters. During his long aviation career he piloted the following helicopters: Bell 47, Alouette III, SA 315B Lama, Alouette II, Agusta A109.
For his great contribution to the development of the Swiss civil aviation and his activity as a pioneer and an entrepreneur Bagnoud received a lot of distinctions in Switzerland and abroad, such as for example the prestigious "Aerosuisse aviation award 2007".
In 1999 a book came out with the title "Parole d’honneur"(Word of honour), published by Editions à la Carte and written by Josyane Chevalley. In this book, Bagnoud recounts his life and activities and there are also some interviews of people who know him personally.
As you have read, Bruno Bagnoud has lived, and is still living, an intense and interesting life. For all he has done over the years… chapeau monsieur Bagnoud!