Airside International asked Nils Haupt, communications director for Lufthansa Cargo for his view of the new night-time ban at Frankfurt airport. How will this affect operations – and the German economy?
The ban will stay in force pending a final ruling on the issue from the higher Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, which is expected in March 2012.
No one could have anticipated that decision at such short notice – only two weeks prior to introduction of the new winter flight schedules. The entire logistics industry, from forwarder to cargo carrier, was forced to rewrite the timetable in the shortest possible time so as to accommodate the already scheduled 17 night flights.
Re-planning, however, is not as easy as might at first sight be imagined. The flight routes to the Americas or Asia, for example, had been fixed for months and permits for over-flights, takeoffs and landings had long since been issued.
Worldwide flights are planned meticulously and cannot simply be changed at the drop of a hat. Transferring flights to daytime slots is not always possible, since schedules in daytime timetable are closely timed and leave scarcely any gaps for additional flights to be slotted-in.
So Lufthansa Cargo had to cancel two flights per week to China and re-schedule other routes by several hours. In order to maintain important connections to the Far East, a fully loaded freighter is now flying five times weekly from Frankfurt to Cologne stopping over for several hours and then taking off at night with a new crew bound for Russia and China.
This is a temporary solution which is neither economic nor environmentally sound – particularly when the EU is about to impose a new carbon emissions tax on the European airline industry.
The night-flight ban will not just deal a severe blow to the airlines. It will impact the entire logistics chain. Whereas forwarders were previously able to drop off their shipments at Frankfurt airport in the late evening, they must now call at the airport half a day earlier because of the deferred take-off schedules.
Goods must consequently leave the factory much earlier, which in turn will influence production and capacity planning at any number of companies. And, finally, significantly more road traffic will be re-allocated to daytime hours and add to the already severe pressure on the roads.
In short: The cancellation of night flights will disadvantage the entire logistics industry.
No alternative to Frankfurt
In Germany, there is no alternative to Frankfurt Airport. It is the country’s major cargo hub, offering many advantages and not only because of its geographic location. The airport is particularly attractive to many companies because so many cargo and passenger aircraft come together there. Around half of all airfreight at Lufthansa Cargo is transported around the world on board passenger aircraft. Only in that way can Lufthansa Cargo operate services to more than 300 destinations in its global network.
At no other airport in Europe is more freight handled and consolidated than in Frankfurt – and the trend is set to continue. For that reason alone, it is impossible for us to transfer a large number of cargo flights to other locations. This is quite apart from the increase in truck traffic that re-location would mean in terms of cost and CO2 emissions.
Logistics is a business that operates round-the-clock, round the globe. Goods are transported 24 hours a day worldwide. Production and trading lanes are so closely networked that they knit entire continents literally together.
Cars are made from innumerable individual components, which are delivered by diverse suppliers across the world. Spare parts for medical equipment are delivered to their destination in the space of a single day. Perishables, such as fruits, vegetables or medicines, countenance no interruption in transit – they necessitate close interplay between all those involved in the supply chain. They make night flights imperative. These goods cannot wait until a new day dawns.
If Frankfurt Airport remains closed for six hours during the night, such shipments will seek other ways. Forwarders will migrate to other airports, like Amsterdam or Paris, and many jobs in all sectors – not least of all airside handling – will be at risk.
Legal security a categorical necessity
According to a study by the World Bank, Germany is the logistics world champion. The business is Germany’s third biggest industry and employer. Additionally Germany is the second largest exporting nation two after China. Consequently Frankfurt airport is the seventh largest cargo airport worldwide – and Lufthansa Cargo belongs to one of the largest and most successful air cargo airlines in the world.
The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig has to decide whether these positions can be maintained or not. At a time when the rest of Europe is looking to Germany to resolve Europe’s currency crisis, and so reduce the possibility of another major recession, now is not the time to compromise Germany’s ability to maintain the level of its exports in world markets or restrict its ability to deliver them.”
The Federal government reports German exports increased 10.5 percent in September to Euro 95 billion year-on-year as imports rose 11.6 percent to Euro 77.6 percent in the same month. The country had a foreign trade surplus of Euro 17.4 billion in September and, according to Deutsche Bundesbank, a balance of payments (current account) surplus of Euro 15.7 billion.
During the month, Germany exported Euro 56.6 billion to EU member states and imported Euro 50.1 billion – a year over year increase of 10.8 percent and 13.8 percent respectively. Non-EU exports totalled Euro 38.4 billion while imports were Euro 27.5 billion – an increase of 10.1 percent and 7.9 percent respectively.
Despite the overall upturn, export and import traffic via Frankfurt dropped 4.6 percent in September compared to the same month in 2010 to 180,483 tonnes. In October, there was a further drop of 9.0 percent year-on-year to 190,927 tonnes.A further drop in Frankfurt’s November traffic will suggest the usual pre-holiday airfreight traffic is not going to materialise.
When Lufthansa Cargo first heard about the sudden night-time ban, it chairman Karl Ulrich Garnadt commented: .“The ban has forced us to lay on a timetable, which in part is economically and ecologically absurd. We will be operating in future with unnecessary take-offs and landings, which will lead to more noise, higher fuel consumption and more costs running into millions.”
If air cargo is, indeed, a bell-wether of economic activity, a Euro crisis-led recession in 2012 is quite likely. For one reason or another, ground operations at Frankfurt, as in other Euro-zone airports, are likely to take a significant economic hit.
Caption: FRAport, Lufthansa Cargo and a number of German suppliers and non-profit organisations have sponsored several humanitarian aid flights from Frankfurt to Nairobi for the Horn of Africa. The night-time ban has made it difficult to continue. Good news for the cargo handling night shift. Bad news for starving Somalis.