Listening to Carsten Spohr, the new chairman of Lufthansa Cargo, you might think a disaster was looming atFrankfurt airport.
Warning of the consequences if a complete night time ban is introduced as part of the deal for building a fourth runway at the airport, Spohr recently said it would not just “jeopardise the very existence” of Lufthansa Cargo, but also “threaten the entire role ofthe airport as a cargo hub”.
That claim sits rather oddly with the fact that only 50 of Lufthansa Cargo’s freighter fl ights each week currently fall in the nighttime period, and that other freighter operators – mainly Asian ones– continue to fl ock to the airport to fi llits daytime slots.
The airport in fact saw an impressive 8.7 percent rise in cargo tonnage in 2006, far outstripping its rivals and making it the fi rst European airport to top two million tonnes (2,057,175tonnes to be precise).
To put this in perspective, Frankfurt grew faster than Hong Kong or Singapore during the year, and was only just behind Shanghai in tonnage. In its summer schedule, it will have 245 cargo fl ights a week operated by 31 airlines, a year on year increase ofthree percent.
Pointing to this, Fraport’s offi cial line is strictly neutral on the night fl ight question, even though it cemented a strategic partnership with Lufthansa Cargo in September to develop Frankfurtas a cargo hub.
“It is a decision between Lufthansa and the government of the State of Hesse,” says Fraport spokesman, Robert Payne. “As a company we agreed to a night fl ight ban in return for a new runway that will increase our runway capacity by 50 percent. If Lufthansa want to get an exemption to that, it is up to them to work out an agreement.” He points out that the extra slots provided by the new runway – which will increase movements from 80 to 120 an hour – will benefi t freighter operators just as much as passenger carriers, adding: “It is this new capacity which is the most important thing for us as an airport.”
Spohr has also said a proposed major revamp of Lufthansa’s cargo facilities at Frankfurt will be called into question if it does not get some leeway on night fl ights. However, the massive investments Lufthansa Cargo has made only recently – one example being millions of euros on new security for its cargo hub – that claim might be treated with a certain scepticism.
In addition, the airport is getting a new animal station, and its Perishables Center is being expanded, suggesting that in these quarters at least, the future of Frankfurt as a cargo hub is not in doubt.
For its part, the airport has already started work on a 110 hectare logistics area to the north of the new runway, and the Cargo City South freight area is due to gain some extra land from the re-development of the former US air base – though most of that space is going to a third passenger terminal. A fi nal go-ahead on the runway itself is due soon, following resolution of the fi nal issue – the relocation of a chemical plant under the runway fl ight path, in November last year. Spohr said in February he was confi dent a compromise on night fl ights could be reached by the time the go-ahead was given.