No air traffic, no development but standstill everywhere one looks. That’s the sad reality Schwerin-Parchim International Airport (IATA: SZW) is facing. All visions to catapult Parchim into an acknowledged role as a well-working freight airport, attracting traffic, creating jobs etc, have gone to ashes. It appears that the first attempt of Chinese investors to venture into the German airport landscape has become a major flop.
Where is Jonathan Pang? “He is seen here only very occasionally,“ states Par-chim’s deputy mayor Frank Schmidt. Pang is the key figure in the context of the air-port’s fate. Exactly eleven years
ago, Pang’s Beijing-based company LinkGlobal Lo-gistics acquired Parchim for a notarially attested price of €30 million.
After the paper was inked, Pang spoke enthusiastically of a magnificient future Parchim is facing, based on a fast growing chain of freighter flights between China and the German airport near the Baltic Sea. He promised to create 1,000 new jobs, make major capital investments in warehouses and ground facilities, leading to the upturn of an entire region where unemployment was high at that time and prosperity rather low.
No wonder that many, above all leading local politicians, regarded Pang as kind of saviour, bringing economic prosperity to the area. It was probably this view, clouded with hope, that led the decision makers of the rural district to agree to write off €13 million of debts after LinkGlobal informed them that they were unable to pay the full purchase price of €30 million. However, the local’s trust in Link’s and Pang’s promises was not disturbed by this financial hardships.
Keen train-plane visions
LinkGlobal’s basic concept consisted of intermodal rail-air freight transports, railing Chinese exports from production sites along the Pacific Rim to Urumqi in northeastern China from where they would be loaded on board freighters to be flown to Parchim and distributed across central and western Europe right after arrival. However, the financial crisis starting 2008 and lasting some years shattered these plans.
Big plans, meager results
Afterwards Pang surprised all concerned with the idea of using the airport for building a tariff-free shopping zone, flying wealthy Chinese buyers to Parchim for purchasing Gucci, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Swatch and other luxury label products. But this fancy vision went to ashes, too.
Focussing on air freight again, he promoted plans to fly mitten crabs from Parchim to East Asia, an invasive species which originally stem from China. “European rivers and lakes are full of them so we shouldn’t have problems to fill entire freighters with these furry creatures, because in Chinese cuisine they are considered a delicacy.” Pang told CargoForwarder Global some years back. But was it for the lack of fishermen or too little crabs, fact is that this project evaporated as well prior to getting really hot.
When evaluating the eleven years Pang and Chinese forwarding agent Link Global have been in charge of Schwerin-Parchim International Airport, very little if anything has changed. There is neither air traffic, nor were new jobs created as originally announced by the investor. A lot of hot air was produced with almost zero result.
Operating expenses are covered by the stakeholder
Currently, 33 staff are working for the operator named Baltic Airport Mecklenburg GmbH, mainly to keep the runway (3,000 x 55m), technical equipment and ground facilities in shape as demanded by the regulator in order not to risk losing the operating license. They are paid regularly, assures operations manager Eugen Arnstatt.
Where exactly the money comes from he doesn’t say, pointing out that he is responsible for operations, not for financial matters. But when addressed again he confirmed that the operating expenses amount to something like €200,000 each month, adding to this that the funding is provided by the investor. “Conducting a thorough research will show you that Link Global consists of more than one entity,“ he indicated vaguely, leaving his interlocutor somehow bewildered in view of the Chinese agent’s meaningless website.
Parchim - quo vadis?
This brings up the basic question if Parchim is dispensable as an airport and should better be closed or if it is needed in the German airport landscape. The answer is a yes AND no. In case the current situation doesn’t turn to the better, it seems to be more rational to end the unsatisfying status quo by converting the plot into an industrial zone or alike alternative objectives.
Conversely, Parchim might have a future, if Hamburg Airport‘s management and the city as main stakeholder (51%) change their attitude, taking over Parchim and then save it as an airfield supplementing its own operations. Due to growing air traffic, neighbours are increasingly raising their voices, demanding extended night flight restrictions. A plausible request, since HAM is surrounded by densely populated city districts.
Turning time back for a better future?
If so, time would be turned back eleven or twelve years. This, because prior to the Parchim purchase by Link Global, Hamburg was considering a commitment as well, but not willing to pay astronomical prices, sources had at that time told CargoForwarder.
But this is still future music. “Currently, Parchim is not insolvent,“ said a spokesperson at Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s ministry of economy that is responsible for the commercial matters in the northeastern German State. Not yet, but maybe soon?
According to the company's balance sheet, LinkGlobal’s financial situation has gone south lately. Liquidity has shrunk - from three million to almost 900,000 euros. In addition, the company has debts totaling €2.8 million with only few assets on its books, stated broadcasting station Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) in a recent report.
And Mr Pang, who has almost become invisible in Parchim? He seems to have lost his job as managing director of Link Global to Ren Yongsheng. According to latest rumors, Pang runs a floor space in Beijing, where high-quality consumables import-ed from Germany are displayed. The name of the facility: Parchim Mall.