Air, Freight News, Logistics

Lufthansa moves freighters out of Frankfurt following night flight ban

[ October 20, 2011   //   ]

Lufthansa Cargo has revealed details of the interim schedule it will put in place following the surprise decision of the Hesse regional court to ban night flights at Frankfurt airport from the end of October, ahead of a final ruling by the Federal Administrative Court. The ban would apply to flights between 23.00 and 05.00 from 30 October, the start of the airlines’ winter schedules.

Two return freighter flights to China have been cancelled completely while other China-bound flights will stop over in Cologne-Bonn for several hours after an early evening departure from Frankfurt before resuming their agreed slots over Siberia to the Far East.

From January 2012, “at least one” MD-22 freighter will be transferred from Frankfurt to Cologne-Bonn to operate night flights to North America; however, cut-off times will have to be advanced by several hours and sameday services to the US will be affected. The airline has calculated that the ban, if perpetuated, would increase its fuel consumption by 2.5m litres a year and put thousands of extra trucks on Germany’s roads.

“The night flight ban has forced us to lay on a timetable, which in part is economically and ecologically absurd,” said Lufthansa Cargo chairman Karl Ulrich Garnadt. “Closing the world’s seventh-biggest airport for six hours each night and thereby decoupling it from the international goods flows constitutes a severe blow to the air freight industry. No other transport mode is subject to such operational restrictions.”

The Hesse regional court’s ruling was a complete surprise to Lufthansa, Garnadt continued, given that the entire case was already sitting with the Federal Court, and had come only 19 days before the start of the new Winter 2011/12 flight schedule. The Hesse court had in effect “interfered in the Federal Court’s process, a decision on which is still expected during the first quarter of 2012. Neither court’s decision can be appealed, he said.

The one glimmer of hope for Lufthansa and Frankfurt airport operator Fraport is that a recent ruling by the Federal Court has ruled in favour of allowing early evening and early morning ‘shoulder’ flights at the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport, which is due to open next summer. However, it was impossible to say whether the Hesse court’s decision would have any bearing on the Federal court’s decision. Lufthansa also noted that the Federal government had, in a coalition agreement, highlighted the importance of competitive opening times at German airports, and German airlines had worked at reducing noise emissions.

Meanwhile, though, the ruling had created a very difficult situation for Lufthansa. “We have had in a very short space of time to reschedule our operations though we can more or less provide our customers with the required lift,” Garnadt said. It was too early to quantify the effect on Lufthansa Cargo’s bottom line, but if perpetuated, the ban would cost “double digit millions of Euros” he said. It could also affect decision by major freight forwarder and other customers to invest in the Frankfurt area. Meanwhile, Lufthansa had seen “a huge wave of solidarity” over its position on the nigh ban.

Frankfurt Hahn airport would not be an effective solution as Lufthansa Cargo would lose the connectivity with scheduled passenger flights if it relocated its freighters to the relatively remote airport. However, the use of Cologne was just an intermediate solution to any permanent ban on night operations at Frankfurt, Garnadt added. It was also premature to comment on any more radical solutions such as stationing Lufthansa freighters outside Germany.

There would be no immediate effect on Lufthansa Cargo’s freighter investment programme – new 777Fs would join the fleet as scheduled. “They are not on hold – but the question is where they will be stationed.”

In a statement, airport operator Fraport: “Implementation of this decision means cancellation of some internationally coordinated slots already allocated to the airlines although it was “encouraged” by the German Federal Administrative High Court on night flights at the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport, which is due to open next summer.

Ironically, the Hesse court’s announcement on Frankfurt came just a few days before the airport was due to open its Runway Northwest on 21 October. But a Fraport spokesman said that it was strictly a bi-directional landing runway and never was planned for operations during the proposed night time ban.