Hahn Airport Loses Air China Service

The Chinese national carrier, Air China has decided to cease forthwith its 3 weekly Boeing 777F operations through Hahn airport.

Garbe-built cargo facility near FRA utilized by Hahn Airport for consolidating shipments  /  company courtesy
Garbe-built cargo facility near FRA utilized by Hahn Airport for consolidating shipments / company courtesy

This move has come as shock to all concerned at Hahn as the service had only started in September and hopes were at that time high that Air China would eventually increase to almost daily operations. The new flights were operated as part of a new Air China round the world service originating and ending in Shanghai with positioning through New York or Chicago before passing through Hahn on their way back.

Not a matter of poor service.
The decision to cease operations has apparently nothing to do with poor or lack of service for the Chinese carrier at the Hunsrueck airport.
A press release issued by Hahn on 23. December states that Air China has decided to cease operations with the Boeing 777 freighter due to “instrument landing restrictions” for the pilots operating the aircraft.
This seems to relate to the fact that Air China’s Boeing 777F pilots do not yet have the necessary experience to land in so called CAT 3 conditions and so far only hold CAT 1 landing licenses. This applies particularly when fog restricts visual approach on runways. Hahn airport had experienced quite some foggy days during December, whereby Air China had then already to cancel or overfly.
Recent talks in Peking between Hahn’s management and Air China have regretfully led to this decision.
Whether Air China will be back once its 777F pilots have achieved CAT 3 authority, remains to be seen.

A strange phenomenon!
It is well known that the Hahn airport is subject to more low level cloud and fog than other airports in the region.
However, other carriers such as Silk Way Airlines, Emirates and Nippon Cargo Airlines don’t have this problem. Normal operations through Hahn are a daily occurrence with these carriers.
With or without adverse weather conditions.
Could it then be that factions within Air China’s Peking management had not wanted to operate through Hahn and would have preferred Frankfurt instead?
It’s hard to grasp the fact that the Chinese carrier who operates such a large fleet of Boeing aircraft, cannot or has not reached type certification on the Triple Seven Freighter for its pilots to land in a bit of fog.

Hahn had opened Air China distribution centre in FRA
Hahn’s cargo management had rented a 3,000 sqm warehouse and office space in Moerfelden-Walldorf, which is situated about seven kilometers away from Frankfurt Rhine-Main airport.
The facility was rented exclusively for the handling of Air China cargo shipments which were flown into Hahn airport on their 3 weekly Boeing 777F flights.
The inbound cargo was consolidated there and then forwarded partly over to FRA airport where it is slotted into the pan-European network for onward delivery to final consignees.

The facility which has a total of 5,700 sqm warehouse and office space is marketed by Garbe Logistic AG, one of Germany‘s leading logistics development and rental companies.
The company which exists for more than twenty years and has its base in Hamburg, concentrates on  the development, purchase, sale and rental of logistics properties at national and international air cargo hubs at over fifty locations in forty-six cities.

Air China’s move to Hahn with its new round the world freighter service was completed earlier this year. The need for speedy onward positioning and delivery of inbound shipments is paramount and the decision by Hahn to have their own “in-between” warehouse was seen by the carrier and the airport as an additional selling point towards Air China’s customers.
The demise of the Air China business is indeed a setback for Hahn airport. However, CargoForwarder Global was informed by Hahn’s management that the facility will continue to be rented by them in order to cement their intention of growing the business.

Hahn Airport officially goes out to tender
CargoForwarder Global reported exclusively in September in an interview with Hahn’s CEO, Markus Bunk, on the possibility of Hahn being sold off to a future investor.
The decision was reached by the Rhineland-Palatinate regional government on 2. December that a tender will be issued within Europe during 2015 with the aim of attracting one or more investors to take over their majority share of 82.5%.

The Rhineland-Palatinate Transport Minister, Roger Lewentz is quoted as saying that “this is a good day for Hahn and the whole region.” He claims to be optimistic that a private investor can and will be found.
The argument is that a private investor would bring in new and innovative ideas.
Are they then saying that the politicians - past and present - have failed in bringing the necessary innovative structure to the airport?

What’s in it for a future investor? 
The airport is said to have a total debt of almost €130 million whereby the Rhineland-Palatinate government is willing to take over €122 million of that for their account in a move to hand over the airport relatively debt-free by the time a new investor comes on board.
The remaining debt of around €8 million is meant to be settled by the airport in 2015 and 2016.
In another financial move, the local government has also indicated that they will buy vacant property which is not needed by the airport in the future for a total of almost €19 million. It is not clear, however, whether part of this purchase price is intended to cover the airport’s own €8 million debt.

So, all going well, a future investor will be able to step into a debt-free environment.
But what type of private investor will want to step in when passenger movements are way below those of 2007 when 4 million people used Hahn airport. Passenger figures have dropped to 2.7 million in 2013, this despite an overall European increase in cheaper air travel.
Ryanair, who last week announced top revenues for 2014, was in their words forced to cut capacity in Hahn due to a shortage of aircraft because of delayed deliveries of new ones.
Ryanair was always the mainstay of Hahn’s passenger business and their return to  increased capacity is a must if the airport wants to continue as an important hub for the area.

Much work has been done on promoting cargo
The recent contract with Air China whereby the Chinese national carrier had plans to use Hahn for up to five weekly- round -the- world flights was seen as a signal by Hahn’s management to other operators that “it must not only be Frankfurt-Main.”
In that sense, yes, why not?
The infrastructure is there in the form of state-of-the-art warehouses, good ramp facilities, a road infrastructure which enables fast delivery to and from the airport and a young sales management who are reaching out to prospective customers and dearly want to see things happen.
Christoph Goetzmann, Hahn’s Director Sales & Marketing told us that losing Air China is sad indeed because of the combined workload invested in order to get the carrier on board, but  this means that it’s “all hands on deck” to look for an appropriate replacement.

The ministry in Mainz is not letting on as to whether they have any potential investor waiting in the wings, but rumors have it that KPMG is busy with setting up a sales strategy and the tender process which will have to be presented to the EU Commission for approval.
Will that be completed in time for a sale and handover by next year?

John Mc Donagh

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