Has FRA Airport Missed the Boat?

In this edition of CargoForwarder Global we concentrate somewhat on the developments of airports in Germany (see CGN/HAJ reports).
Therefore we cannot miss out on informing readers about recent cargo developments at Frankfurt, the largest airport in the country.

Tarik Al-Wazir flanked by ACD President Winfried Hartmann (standing left) and the club’s VP Mathias Jakobi (right)  /  source: jmd
Tarik Al-Wazir flanked by ACD President Winfried Hartmann (standing left) and the club’s VP Mathias Jakobi (right) / source: jmd

German Air Cargo Club (ACD) invites Hessian Minister of Transport
Tarek Al-Wazir is a long standing member of the German Green Party who after the last elections in the Federal State of Hesse formed a ruling coalition with the Christian Democrats (CDU).
It was ironic in many peoples’ eyes, when Al-Wazir was appointed as Minister for Transport, Economy and Energy.
As the responsible Minister for transport issues, he also steers debates and decisions on the future of Frankfurt airport.
Why ironic?
It is well known that the Greens even before the last elections were adamantly voicing their protests with regards to an expansion of the airport and were foremost in insisting on a night flight ban there as well.
Al-Wazir himself was, and still is seen by many as one of the most radical protesters.

However, he accepted the ACD’s invitation and did not shirk out of it by sending one of his junior staff, something which other politicians might have done.
The invitation was to explain to Germany’s air cargo managers what further plans the government may have to restrict flights through the airport after the recent implementation of the night flight ban.

Was it worth the bother?
“Much ado about nothing” - (Viel Laerm um nichts) - this was a comedy written by William Shakespeare in 1598 which highlighted the frivolity of many being involved and nothing really happening.
With all due respect for the Minister, it is our view that the above may well apply to his ACD appearance.

German air freight and shipping managers have been quite rightly very worried for some years as to whether Frankfurt airport could hold the position as the number one cargo airport in the country.
They came out in force to the November 11th ACD meeting, probably in the hope that they would get clear answers to exactly that.
The Minister (or his juniors) neatly step sided that problem by insisting that questions be forwarded to his office about two weeks beforehand and the decision that there were to be no questions from the floor on the evening of his appearance.

But, back to the problem at hand!
The night ban is in force from 23:00 - 05:00 hours and the present discussions centers around whether it should be extended even further or what to do with the so called “shoulder hours”  between 22:00-23:00 and 05:00-06:00 hours where it is said that over 130 flights are performed in and out of the airport.
The fear was that the Hessian government, especially the Green faction would press for a ban from 22:00 - 06:00 hours.

This, the Minister stated, “will not be the case.”
He elaborated somewhat on plans which are on the table, but not yet ratified, to have an alternate use of take-off and landing runways in the above mentioned period in order to lessen the “noise strain” on inhabitants whose homes lie in the vicinity of the airport.
These plans are the results presented by a working group made up from representatives of the airport, the ministry, Lufthansa and the Air Traffic Control (DFS) bodies.
All in all, more that 265 suggestions were said to have been on the table, of which apparently five, relating to the above, have been selected as feasible and that the aim is to implement them from the start of the summer flight plan which starts end of March 2015.

All well and good - but what about the future of the airport as an air cargo hub?
Nothing new on that!
Al-Wazir spent over 30 minutes telling his audience that he has full understanding for the shipping world and its misgivings, that although noise levels have dropped somewhat - that flights have increased and that if there were (fiction) a new airport built, it would not be in FRA.
Everybody knew all that and the participants did not need a Minister to waste (his) valuable time in saying that.

Of the four or five questions which were sorted out and presented, the most important was: “How do you see the development of air freight in Germany in the present environment?”
Well, we suppose that from a politicians view – “no answer is a good answer.”
That’s exactly what we got. A lot of dancing around the subject and nothing concrete.
It was something along the lines of underestimating or ignoring the intelligence of the audience.
Frankfurt airport - the most important employer in Hesse and an airport where most carriers who operate freighter flights definitely prefer night arrivals and departures in order to slot their aircraft into destination arrival times which can ensure speedy onward transit of cargo.
Something, which the Minister and his team either know nothing about or simply prefer to ignore.
He was honest enough to admit that his only confrontation with air cargo was when he picked up a personal shipment from the Yemen at the airport many years ago and that the customs officials were very demanding.

Lacking support
As to the question raised as to whether the state government has an opinion on traffic wandering away from FRA to airports outside of Germany - he answered somewhere along the lines that “the region and air freight remain very important but one would really have to check whether this were the case and if it were really a problem.”
In other words – “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

We all know that the debate on FRA is not over and that Minister Al-Wazir and the Greens will never support the airport in what’s needed to secure it as an economic factor for Hesse and Germany.
Terminal 3, although building permission was given by the city of Frankfurt, is still under his personal scrutiny as to whether (in his view) it is necessary or not.
What sort of delaying tactic will come up on this issue?

Christian Democrats keep their lips sealed
FRA airport won’t develop further simply because the political brake has been fully applied.
It is really sad that also the other half of the coalition does not put any pressure on the Ministry to look factually at the problems at hand.

In view of all of this the question really has to be put as to whether FRA has not only just missed the plane, but also the boat.

John Mc Donagh

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