The location was perfectly chosen: A huge hangar at Leipzig/Halle Airport in Saxony, eastern Germany, managed and operated by DHL Express. The most important guest, among the 500 hand-picked invitees, panelists, and speakers, was Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her coming and speech was understood as an important sign of support for the national aviation industry.
No doubt, it was a remarkable show packed with many speeches and contributions by leading members of the industry, politicians and representatives of unions and associations worthy of being
listened to. An impressive framework flanked by various pristine-clean DHL freighters parked in the large maintenance hall.
Air freight fuels the world’s economy
Main topics standing on the agenda were – among others – the perspectives of hydrogen powered aircraft, how sustainability targets influence and change the industry, the fate of the much discussed but still uncompleted Single European Sky or the role of synthetic fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Thrilling and pressing topics but judging from the high expectations raised by the event its result was rather meager, at least seen from a cargo point of view. The only air freight related message, in addition to highlighting his carrier’s ecological efforts in most parts of his speech, was delivered by Deutsche Lufthansa Chief Carsten Spohr. The executive reminded of the outstanding role this sector plays for the entire economy. In his company’s specific case it is Lufthansa Cargo in combination with AeroLogic, Swiss and other group members that contribute significantly to the well-being of many industrial sectors and their employees. Air freight accounts for only 0.8 percent of all goods exported. However, measured in terms of their monetary worth this represents almost 30 percent of their total value, Mr Spohr reminded. This includes machinery parts, tools, electronic goods, IT commodities, spare parts for cars, vessels or the global aviation industry, to name but a few items loaded into freighters or cargo compartments of passenger aircraft.
Making aviation as climate friendly as possible, Spohr
This everyday practice keeps the industry running in many parts of the world. When air freight comes to a standstill, as shown in 2010 when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajoekull erupted with its plume grounding aircraft, international supply chains collapsed, resulting in food scarcity in many parts of Europe. Transporting relief items, supplying medicines and vaccines around the globe, flying urgently needed human organs from the donor to the recipient “would be just as impossible without air traffic as tourism, which ensures economic stability in many regions. Even against this background, we must do everything in our power to make flying as climate friendly as possible in the future," Lufthansa’s helmsman exclaimed, urging the aviation industry to accelerate sustainable developments.
Modernizing fleets is best way to reduce CO2 emissions further
Sustainability has been a guiding principle ranking high on Lufthansa’s agenda, seen by the constant fleet renewal, Mr Spohr explained. In the short term, the biggest lever is in fuel-efficient aircraft, which emit up to a quarter less CO2 than their predecessor models, he stated.
This policy of permanent fleet renewal has paid off for both the LH Group of airlines and the ecology. In 2018, for example, transporting a passenger on board an LH, Swiss or Austrian flight over a distance of 100 km needed only 3.65 liters of kerosene on average - an improvement of around 41 percent compared to 1990 figures. New aircraft ordered by the LH Group at Airbus and Boeing will once again significantly reduce CO2 emissions: around 1.5 million tons per year, stated Mr Spohr.
This, together with the industry’s many efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emission was acknowledged by Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, with regard to the steadily growing “Fridays for future” movement and the turning of the political wind favoring initiatives and rulings to mitigate climate change she demanded more efforts in the area of research and innovation. According to her, a two-pronged approach is needed: “As government we support the roll-out of new technologies for climate protection which are also beneficial for the German economy.”
Air transport is at a crucial stage, Merkel
The Chancellor pointed to 850,000 jobs and the importance of the aviation sector particularly for exporting companies. "The value of air shipments destined to places outside the EU amounts to a quarter of Germany’s total exports," she stated. The country’s economy in general and in particular many people working directly or indirectly in this sector would therefore largely benefit from aviation. So does the entire nation since the aviation sector generates value added of 60 billion euros per year.
More prominent role of air freight demanded by ACD
At the end and following the many speeches and panels, a mission statement, titled the “Future of Aviation” and comprising 6 pages was signed by members of the government, representatives of industrial associations and leading unionists. The paper’s basic message: Aviation as an innovative industry which must be given more importance in future political and economic decisions. This has to be combined with efforts to achieve greater appreciation by the general public.
In a first reaction to the Leipzig-agreed mission statement Christoph Stoller, the president of the Air Cargo Association Germany (ACD), criticized the lack of importance given to air freight in the paper. “Cargo is indispensable and of great importance to us all,” he exclaimed. “Without air freight, many pharmaceutical products or important spare parts would simply no longer be available when needed.”