Michael Steen, chairman of The International Air Cargo Association, has spoken out about the Hesse Administrative High Court’s ban of scheduled nighttime flights at Frankfurt Airport, which began on October 30. Not only does the ban impair global supply chains, Steen warned, it also penalizes business and consumers alike, he maintained.
“It is very easy for courts to impose restrictions on airport operations, but they fail to take into account the economic importance air cargo operations bring to airports and their local business communities,” Steen said in a statement. After all, he said, such flight restrictions tend to affect airfreight operations the most.
“At airports around the world, all-cargo operations are often forced to fly nighttime operations because of slot restrictions that have been steadily increased over the years, particularly as passenger flights are usually given preference ahead of freighter services,” Steen stated.
Although he credits cargo carriers with adapting to these changes, Steen said the Frankfurt night-flight ban could force all-freight operations away from major airports. “This would have a considerably wider effect than the judicial system is likely to take into account,” he stated.
The decision to ban night flights at Frankfurt was initially designed to enable Frankfurt workers to build a new runway. But after a compromise to allow 17 flights between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m was rejected, the Hesse court enforced a total ban before the German Federal Administrative High Court in Leipzig could rule on it. Frankfurt representatives said the ban will stay in effect until the high court can weigh in on the decision.
Steen is hopeful, however, that the federal court will overturn Hesse’s ban. “There is still time for the federal court to look at the bigger picture and we hope that will lead to this decision being reversed,” he said in a statement. If not, the consequences could be dire, Steen maintained.
“Air cargo traffic, for example, is already moving away from Frankfurt as a result of the court’s decision, and you have to assume this will affect employment at the airport and in businesses in the surrounding areas,” he said in a statement.
Nowhere is this more evident than with Lufthansa Cargo. As the airport’s prime freighter operator, the carrier could lose “double-digit millions of euros” if the nighttime flight ban isn’t overturned, Lufthansa Cargo CEO Karl Ulrich Garnadt stated. One analyst placed that figured to be between €30 million and €50 million.
Lufthansa Cargo’s freighter services to the U.S. and China are affected the greatest, as the carrier planned to institute 10 night flights at the end of October. A so-called “same-day delivery” service to the U.S. over New York and Chicago is the main casualty of the ban. One night flight to Chicago will now depart from Leipzig instead of Frankfurt, but this will mean trucking urgent cargo almost 200 kilometers east from Germany’s industrial heartland, resulting in a much earlier cutoff for shippers.
What’s more, night flights from Frankfurt to New York and Chicago must switch to daytime for November and December. It’s just another unintended consequence of the Hesse decision, Garnadt explained.
“Frankfurt is essential to the logistical network. We can, more or less, provide our customers with the required lift, but there are serious consequences for our reliability [from a night ban],” he said in a statement. “It will still be possible to operate, but we would have to re-analyze our future development.”