It is unlikely that Frankfurt will ever be eclipsed as Europe’s dominant air cargo citadel. For this reason, the airport’s preeminence in Germany is even more profound — more than 80 percent of the local market’s air waybills are cut in Frankfurt.
Is there any hope for Germany’s lesser aviation mortals and the country’s second-tier portals? Well, there’s determination and ambition, aplenty. These bit players believe cracks are beginning to appear in the Frankfurt armor. The specter of an approaching nighttime ban and the sheer weight of business will, it is claimed, force airlines to seek alternative gateways in Germany.
This is why airports-in-waiting — Berlin, Dusseldorf and Cologne-Bonn — are raising their game and making determined efforts to attract more direct long-haul business. But there are politics at play and a national carrier determined to thwart the progress the more ambitious foreign carriers are trying to make on the richly prized German market.
Matters have come to a head with the refusal by the German aviation authorities to allow Emirates to serve more than four entry points in Germany. It already flies to Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf and Hamburg from its Dubai base and has been looking to add Berlin and Stuttgart to its portfolio. The denial of further access to the German market, it is argued by government officials, is based on the size of the mutual home markets of the respective national carriers. But it also says that there is no limit on the frequency of flights or size of aircraft Emirates can use on its existing services.
That leaves Emirates with the prospect of eliminating service to one or more of its existing points if it wants to serve any different destinations in Germany. The first casualty of this bilateral spat is likely to be Germany’s new showpiece airport, Berlin-Brandenburg, which, when it opens in June next year, will replace the German capital’s existing airports of Tegel and Schonefeld.
According to Torsten Jueling, the new project’s senior consultant, air cargo, high priority is being given to developing cargo business. “We are in a catchment area around Berlin, which generates 175,000 tonnes of export air cargo every year,” he said. “We have major heavy industry manufacturers like Siemens and Alstom based here, as well as in the biotech sector such companies as Pfizer and Bayer-Schering.”
Currently, Berlin’s twin airports handle around 30,000 tonnes of flown cargo and 10,000 tonnes of trucked cargo a year — considerably below its catchment potential and further evidence of the consolidation pull Frankfurt holds over the German market. But that has not deflated Jueling.
“Our initial plans with this new project called for a new cargo terminal with a 60,000-tonne annual capability. But based on our business projections, we have already had to upgrade that to a handling facility with a 100,000-tonne annual throughput.”
Berlin is rapidly gaining ground in the long-haul market, Jueling said. Part of that growth is being driven by the growth of Air Berlin, Germany’s second national airline, which has mutated from a local, low-cost carrier and long-haul holiday charter company into a full-service carrier. Jueling said he expects further expansion of its long-haul network when Air Berlin joins the oneworld alliance next year.
Jueling is reticent about discussing the denial of service to Berlin by Emirates. “We have to understand and accept the government’s position in these matters, particularly in regard to protecting the interests of our national carriers,” he said. “In the case of Berlin, it should be noted that we already have direct service to Dubai provided by Air Berlin, so we are not denying the market.”
Not surprisingly, Dusseldorf airport has no intention on giving up one of its most valued customers if Emirates is forced to reassess its priorities in the German market. “We have built up a very strong working relationship with Emirates, particularly on the cargo side,” said Gerton Hulsman, managing director of DUS Cargo Logistics, the airport’s cargo-handling subsidiary. “I think this is something both partners would want to see continue.”
Apart from daily passenger flights, the airline also operates a weekly B747 freighter service to Dubai. “The airline did increase the frequencies of the B747F flights to twice-weekly, but has since reduced this to the weekly operation,” Hulsman said. He added that the airport is also gaining from Emirates’ use of Dusseldorf as a feeder point from other major European gateways. “The airline now serves Paris with A380 equipment, which has considerably reduced its cargo uplift out of the French gateways, so instead, it is trucking cargo to Dusseldorf to make greater use of capacity out of here,” he said.
Like Germany’s other second-tier gateways, Dusseldorf is seeking to gain critical mass with more direct, long-haul connections. “We have the benefit of Dusseldorf being designated as Air Berlin’s second hub in Germany,” Hulsman said. “Lufthansa is adding more and more direct, long-haul services out of Dusseldorf, with Japan, for example, being added next year.”
The airport expects to handle around 105,000 tonnes this year, of which 90 percent is contained in bellyholds. “We want to see that split 80/20 percent as we move forward,” said Hulsman, who together with the DUS Cargo Logistics team, has worked hard to develop a range of products to attract more cargo business to the airport. The latest venture is a neutral trucking service in cooperation with the Run Air Network, which allows airlines and forwarders to feed cargo across Europe.
Cologne-Bonn Airport is seemingly playing a more prominent role in the German air cargo market. At first sight, it would appear to have achieved that goal already, with annual throughputs of more than 650,000 tonnes of cargo. But the vast majority of this business is integrator traffic generated by the presence of UPS and FedEx hubs. Strip their combined figures out of the equation, and general cargo traffic amounts to 150,000 tonnes a year.
“We welcome the integrators, but in some respects it dwarfs our general cargo business, and so it can sometimes be difficult to put that side of our business into its proper prospective,” said Franz Heuckeroth van Hessen, the airport’s director of cargo and sales.
Van Hessen said he views Cologne-Bonn as not an exclusively German airport, choosing instead to focus on the European-wide reach of carriers operating there. Competing with Amsterdam Schiphol, he said, is not out of the question. In fact, van Hessen previously worked for the larger airport, and he has used this experience to help Cologne-Bonn progress.
“It has allowed me to transfer all the knowledge and experience of working at a major cargo gateway and translate that into growing the business at an up-and-coming cargo hub,” says van Hessen, who adds that he is targeting freighter operators to grow his business at Cologne-Bonn.
“The benefit of working with a smaller airport setup like Cologne-Bonn,” he continued, “means that we can provide the carrier with every support service they require.”