Forced to abandon Astana in Kazakhstan last June following a spat with Russian air authorities that threatened to develop into a full-blown diplomatic row, the German cargo carrier has now begun landing in SiberiaÃ¢â‚¬™s Krasnoyarsk instead, for technical stops en route between Europe and Northeast Asia. Heiner Siegmund reports fromSiberia.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The MD-11F is a very good airliner,Ã¢â‚¬Â stated LufthansaÃ¢â‚¬™s CEO Wolfgang Mayrhuber at a recent press event in Leipzig/Halle. In fact, the reliability of the craft is quite remarkable and cockpit crews generally laud the plane. However, it can fly only 7,200 km nonstop if carrying maximum revenue payload of 91 tonnes and thatÃ¢â‚¬™s not enough for long-haul routes like Frankfurt-Seoul or Leipzig/Halle- Osaka.
As a result the freighter has to land somewhere in between to get the tanks refilled with kerosene, which used take place at Astana Airport. But in October 2007 the Russian Transport Ministry suddenly protested and Ã¢â‚¬ËœurgedÃ¢â‚¬™ LH Cargo to choose either Novosibirsk or Krasnoyarsk for refueling the freighters, or else the carrier would not be allowed to cross Siberian skies any longer. In retaliation Germany threatened to ban Aeroflot immediately from its airspaceand territory.
The German side eventually agreed on transferring Lufthansa CargoÃ¢â‚¬™s operation from Kazakhstan to Krasnoyarsk as soon as the infrastructure at the Siberian airport was brought into technical shape to guarantee smooth operations all year long, despite harsh weather conditions. This was accomplished by setting up an instrument landing system (Cat. II) that provides precision guidance to any landing aircraft in case of heavy snowfall, fog, or hard rain. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We spent US$10 million installing the ILS,Ã¢â‚¬Â noted Denis Pashkov, Minister of Industry and Energy at KrasnoyarskÃ¢â‚¬™s regional government.
Roughly Ã¢â€šÂ¬2.5 million was invested by Lufthansa Cargo for necessary technical equipment at their new Siberian hub where its MD-11 freighters have been landing since the beginning of June. However, they can only be refueled and line-haul maintained after touching down. Further activities are presently impossible because of the restrictive aviation treaty between Russia and Germany.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This has to be enhanced soon to allow Lufthansa Cargo commercial activities in addition to technical services,Ã¢â‚¬Â said former Lufthansa CEO Heinz Ruhnau who came to Krasnoyarsk to celebrate the carrierÃ¢â‚¬™s inaugural flight on 4 June, in his present role as the Russian representative of the German airline. His initiative was backed by Minister Pashkov who announced his strong support for liberalising the bilateral treaty. During June the German cargo airline routed seven freighters per week via the Siberian city of one million inhabitants. Since the beginning of July however, with Astana not being served any longer, these operations have gone up to as many as 22 weekly flights. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This means that meanwhile we are deploying all flights between Europe and Northeast Asia via Krasnoyarsk,Ã¢â‚¬Â stated Bernhard Kindelbacher, senior VP Network at LH Cargo. Ã¢â‚¬Å“By routing our aircraft via Siberia we save 12 minutes on average, each flight.Ã¢â‚¬Â This reduces fuel costs and diminishes air pollution because of less kerosene burnÃ¢â‚¬Â, Kindelbacher noted.
It also guarantees KrasnoyarskÃ¢â‚¬™s airport authority a steady flow of money. According to a LH Cargo manager, the carrier has to pay roughly Ã¢â€šÂ¬1,600 in landing fees each time one of their MD-11Fs touches down at the Siberian airport. This adds up to Ã¢â€šÂ¬35,200 a week, taking into account the 22 movements of the German airline there. This accounts for 40 per cent of the airportÃ¢â‚¬™s income, which will hopefully be reinvested in the ground infrastructure of the facility, especially the passenger terminals and the apron which are both in shabby condition.
According to Ruhnau, Lufthansa is presently not eager to lure a Russian airline into the Star Alliance, but this is a touchy topic after the five-member Russian alliance, Air Union disintegrated in September last year. Since then Star has been left without any local partner for smoothly transferring passengers and belly-hold cargo shipments at Moscow or other major hubs. In comparison the SkyTeam alliance got former Russian state carrier Aeroflot on the hook.
Similarly, the Oneworld alliance earlier announced SiberiaÃ¢â‚¬™s S7 Airline would join their alliance soon. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Who says we need one partner? Maybe we team up with two or three if necessary to cover the Russian market,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ruhnau said, indicating the Star AllianceÃ¢â‚¬™s newest vision for a greater role at Moscow, St. Petersburg or Krasnoyarsk.