Will Kassel Airport Rise as a Phoenix Out of the Ashes?

Enormous costs, little traffic, and a sudden change in management are the latest headlines produced by Kassel Airport. The reputation is damaged and the public debate is increasingly becoming critical. However, the local industry remains silent although it was them that demanded the enlargement and modernization of the regional airport with the aim of becoming a future gateway for aviation. Now the big question is what road Kassel will take from here.


In – Ralf Schustereder  / source Kassel Airport                         Out – Maria Anna Muller  /  source: hs

 

The city of Kassel is geographically located right in the middle of Germany, which would make the location ideal for air traffic, mainly cargo flights. This insofar, as several large enterprises are located there or in the neighbouring region that could be viewed as attractive customers for the air cargo business, like the plants of car producers Volkswagen and Daimler, the supplier of medical devices B. Braun AG, tyre producer Continental AG, raw material supplier K + S Group, and automotive outfitter Bosch Group. All of them quite illustrious names.

Originally, cargo was Kassel’s driving force
Therefore, air freight was originally the driving thought behind the decision to bring the airport onto the map by enlarging its runway and build a state-of-the-art ground infrastructure. But the costs exploded. The entire project – strongly supported by Hesse’s conservative government – that was originally calculated to cost €151m ended up with spending of €271m, funded entirely by the taxpayers. That was the first blow which damaged the reputation of the site.
The next one, initiated by the management, followed soon after, aviation experts claim. Instead of playing the cargo card by attracting airlines operating feeder flights on behalf of some of the big integrators, Kassel’s Managing Director Maria Muller and her team promoted leisure traffic. With less than poor results, as proven by the meagre 40,000 travellers or even less Kassel saw last year. According to the airport’s biz plan it should have been at least 100,000 pax. 


Meanwhile, leisure travel has become a very price sensitive item, causing travellers to look ahead for the lowest possible costs. For example, at Germany’s 2nd largest low cost airport, Hahn, you can easily observe car license plates from hundreds of kilometers away, even from Luxembourg, France or Switzerland. Obviously each of them has been looking for “the deal” to fly at lowest possible cost.
Since the once high-flying expectations have not been fulfilled, Maria was ousted and replaced by Ralf Schustereder. The former Fraport manager spent the last two years in Cairo, overseeing Fraport’s business activities there. Wrong business strategy and a false communication policy were the main allegations made by the public owners Hesse State and the City of Kassel against the former management. 

Cargo should come first
The basic problem is that some major gateways are not far away, such as the 165 km distant big Rhine-Main airport or Hanover (118 km) which also offers carriers 24/7 ops. But without doubt, there is growing demand for air transport by the local industry since Northern Hesse State has developed into a logistics center and midpoint for fitting and assemblage of supra-regional importance. 
So the former management has to face the key question why they pushed leisure traffic, but disregarded cargo. Hopefully, their successors identify this error and establish Kassel airport as a focal point for the extensive logistics industry in the region. It could be a starting point to make forwarding agents and airlines aware of this rebuilt and enlarged airport. If so, there is a slim chance that Kassel finally might turn into a contemporary phoenix that rises out of the ashes.

 

Heiner Siegmund