The Hesse Administrative High Court in Germany put an end to scheduled nighttime flights at Frankfurt Airport. The total ban will stay in effect until the German Federal Administrative High Court in Leipzig can weigh in on the decision.
A night-flying compromise had initially been proposed by the Hesse court, which would have allowed the airport to operate 17 flights between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. This reduction in night flights was the price imposed for allowing Frankfurt to operate its new runway.
Detractors next demanded a total night ban, and the Hesse court passed the complaint to Germany’s Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. Before the high court could issue a ruling, Hesse decided to make night flying illegal at Frankfurt.
Fraport’s Robert Payne said the Hesse decision has “caught a lot of people by surprise.” If the superior court comes to a different conclusion, that ruling will take precedent, but the ban will stay in place until a final result is determined.
“It remains to be seen how the German Administrative High Court will decide,” Payne said. “We don’t know exactly when their decision is coming.” A day after the lower court’s decision, Fraport released an official statement outlining the challenges carriers now face.
“Implementation of this decision means cancellation of some internationally coordinated slots already allocated to the airlines, and there remain only 19 days until the start of the new winter 2011/12 flight schedule,” the statement read. “This creates a very difficult situation for the airlines, the cargo shippers, Fraport and, of course, the passengers, and it has implications for the worldwide network of flight connections.”
Payne brushes off the nighttime ban and sees it as simply the cost of bringing more activity to the airport. He’s more focused on the new runway, which will initially bring up to 83 additional movements per hour; an eventual capacity of 126 movements per hour has been estimated.
“This is very significant for us and for our customers,” Payne said, though he does allow that the nighttime ban on flying presents a challenge to scheduled carriers, such as Lufthansa Cargo, that depend on night flights.
A total ban on nighttime flights will virtually kill off business for Lufthansa Cargo, the airport’s prime freighter operator, according to representatives from the carrier. Before the latest ruling putting an end to night flights, Lufthansa Cargo had secured a fairly generous allocation of 11 of the available 17 slots.
“The LH Cargo business model, in which we closely coordinate bellies and freighters through Frankfurt, would no longer be profitable if an absolute ban were imposed,” said Lufthansa Cargo’s Nils Haupt.
Before the State of Hesse’s ban of all nighttime flights, Haupt was still playing a determinedly optimistic hand. “The court decision could impose a total ban, it may leave the current restrictions in place, or it even has the authority to allow additional nighttime movements,” he said.
Even the previous status quo regarding night flights would have been a poor long-term solution for Lufthansa Cargo. According to Haupt, 11 slots equals the airline’s current requirements on night movements. “We are not talking about the existing situation, but the longer-term growth of the cargo market,” Haupt said. “We have made a proven economic case to the government that we will require at least 23 nighttime movements by 2020.”
Haupt is also factoring into this growth forecast the delivery of additional freighter capacity to the airline, with the arrival of the first of five B777 freighters starting in 2013. LH Cargo officials previously hinted at moving the carrier’s freighter operations away from Frankfurt entirely, but they admit there are limited alternative choices available.
“It has been suggested that we shift our operations to nearby Frankfurt-Hahn Airport,” Haupt said. “But to do so would require us to operate an additional 30,000 annual truck movements to make the 120-kilometer connection between the two airports, which are not linked by autobahn.”
Hahn doesn’t have nighttime restrictions, but it suffers from poor weather conditions and is a single runway operation, detractors argue.
Frankfurt officials reject the argument, put forward by those at Lufthansa Cargo, that the imposition of nighttime restrictions at Frankfurt will lead to forwarders moving more traffic through Amsterdam and Paris.
“It is not a view of the market which we share,” Payne said. “The indications are that more and more carriers are choosing Frankfurt as their single European cargo hub.”
Indeed, Frankfurt paints a picture of further expansion and development above and beyond that of a basic cargo hub. Cargo volumes are projected to climb to 3.16 million tonnes by 2020. The airport’s CargoCity South project, which will cover 27 hectares, is expected to be developed in stages to accommodate that growth, with more than 94,000 square meters of new cargo terminal space being provided.
More ambitious still is the proposed development of a 110-hectare site close to the airport designed to become a huge logistics-related project.
“The plan is for Frankfurt Airport to become a center of excellence for logistics,” Payne said. “Companies like German forwarder DB Schenker are planning to build their new global headquarters on this site, and there is a proposal to build a House of Logistics — in effect, a logistics university with its own campus.”