No relief for Lufthansa in Frankfurt
A German federal court dealt Lufthansa Cargo a serious blow April 4 when it upheld a state ban on night flights at Frankfurt International Airport, the airline’s cargo hub.
The decision jeopardizes Frankfurt’s role as an international aviation center and Germany’s strong position as an exporter and provider of logistics services, Deutsche Lufthansa AG Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Christophe Franz said.
The airline indicated that it planned to appeal the ruling.
The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) condemned the decision, saying it will “damage” Frankfurt’s reputation as a premier gateway for international trade and “harm the local and national economy.”
Since Oct. 30, flights have been prohibited at Frankfurt between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. to reduce the noise impact on residents.
Lufthansa had scaled back overnight flights from 50 to 17 and capped the number of flights between 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. and between 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. at 150, under an approved plan with local authorities that eventually was overturned by a state court. It also outfitted its Boeing 737 fleet in Frankfurt with sound suppressors at a cost of several million euros, uses flight techniques that minimize noise levels and recently proposed further noise abatement measures to Hesse officials.
And it is replacing older aircraft in its fleet with quieter ones. The Airbus A380, for example, is about 30 percent quieter than a B747 jumbo jet.
Residents near the airport have the option of installing noise calming equipment, such as ventilation fans and soundproof windows, paid for by airlines through airport charges.
The court also reduced the number of flights in the bumper hours from 150 to 133, saying the flight frequency at those times had to be lower than during the day, Dow Jones Newswires reported.
“It’s not about turning night into day. But the night cannot be allowed to become a nightmare for the German export industry,” Karl Ulrich Garnadt, chairman and CEO of Lufthansa Cargo said.
All-cargo carriers prefer operating at night to give customers more time to drop off cargo at origin and then deliver it during the day at destination.
“We are extremely disappointed by the judge’s decision to uphold the night-time ban,” Olivier Evans, chairman of TIACA’s Industry Affairs Committee and an executive with Swiss WorldCargo, said. “Slots are a major battle ground for airlines at major airports across the globe and in recent years to satisfy the requirements of passengers, all-cargo operations have been pushed into the hours of the day, and usually the night, when passengers don’t want to fly. The air cargo industry has adapted to this and made it work. Today, night-time cargo flights are part of a seamless supply chain that means consumers and businesses can plan their stock levels and production schedules with confidence. This is now at risk.”
Lufthansa points out similar restrictions don’t exist at any of the other major cargo hubs in the world, including Amsterdam, Paris, London or Dubai and that Frankfurt’s new fourth runway would not be used during those hours. It is seeking a more balanced approach to allow the airline operational flexibility in an industry that demands speed to survive.
The airline said it wouldn’t abandon Frankfurt, but warned that other hubs in its network would take priority in expansion planning.
TIACA said restricting freighter movements would reduce future investment by airlines at Frankfurt and could lead to job losses. It warned that local trucking companies could be impacted if all-cargo airlines are forced to use other airports and consumers would pay more for their goods due to higher transport costs.
Night flights are critical for express shipments to North America and without them shippers will migrate to other European hubs to move time-critical products, Lufthansa officials said.
“Switching to other airports is impossible for Lufthansa Cargo, however, more than half the cargo on board passenger aircraft is transported via Frankfurt. Frankfurt is an indispensable part of our business model. This is the only place where freighters and passenger aircraft can be linked quickly and smoothly,” Garnadt said.
Transshipment between aircraft takes place for 70 percent of Lufthansa’s cargo, officials said.
Airports in Leipzig or Cologne lack takeoff and landing slots to accommodate any move by Lufthansa, they said.
But in an interview several days earlier with the German weekly news magazine Focus, Garnadt suggested Lufthansa might scrap its freighter fleet if the ban on night flights is maintained.
Lufthansa operates 18 MD-11 freighters.
Lufthansa Cargo, the world’s fifth largest cargo carrier, says a permanent night-flight ban at Frankfurt would cost it about $130 million a year in lost sales, and dent profits by about $65 million. The carrier previously implemented an emergency plan to maintain service levels for customers, with some flights being shifted to slots in other parts of the day or routed through Cologne/Bonn airport. Some direct connections to China were canceled. It also transferred an MD-11 freighter from Frankfurt to Cologne/Bonn airport.
“Until courts, businesses, industry and members of the public start to understand how much they rely on air cargo, the danger is that the decision made in Frankfurt could be repeated at other major gateways. If this happens, it’s not only the air cargo that will suffer: local communities around those airports and national economies will also pay a higher price, both financially and environmentally,” Evans said.
Meanwhile, freight volume at Lufthansa Cargo fell 9.3 percent to 426,000 tons in the first quarter versus the same 2011 period. The carrier reduced capacity by 8.2 percent. Lufthansa reported a load factor of 69.5 percent, down 0.4 percent.