The Chamber of Commerce, politicians in the city and BER Airport’s management are jointly calling for more intercontinental connections for the German capital. They accuse the Merkel government of having granted take-off and landing rights almost exclusively for Frankfurt and Munich when awarding flight rights to non-EU airlines in Germany. As a result, critical voices complaining that Berlin only plays second or even third fiddle at best when it comes to intercontinental flights, are increasing in volume and clarity.
Just how loud and clear that message has become, was evident at a recent event where well-known representatives of chambers, associations, and institutions from the city and the surrounding area of Berlin took the floor. Although BER, after long years of bungling, has been on the grid since OCT20, it still only boasts one single long-haul connection. And this despite the fact that airlines such as Emirates or Etihad, to name just 2 examples from the Middle East, have been seeking flights to and from Berlin for quite some time. Yet the government's answer has always been “No!” This is because air traffic relations between countries are mainly governed by bilateral agreements. They determine, among other things, which airports are served and how often. Since Emirates and Etihad already fly to several destinations in Germany, but cannot offer any attractive destinations on their side apart from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they will probably have to continue queuing for the award of traffic rights to the German capital. After all, the capital has a population of 3.5 million. If you include the surrounding area, the figure is just under 6 million. The situation is similar in Hamburg, 250 kilometers away, where around 4.5 million people live in the city and metropolitan region. There, too, intercontinental flight connections are a rarity.
The policy puts an entire region at a disadvantage
The extent to which this damages the economy, tourism, and employment, was backed up with figures at the event. For example, a single long-haul connection can result in up to 250 additional company relationships. Positive effects result from better networking with the target destinations, as well as expected higher direct investments by internationally active companies. It has been proven that long-haul flights strengthen the economic base of a business region. Connectivity is an important prerequisite for the successful establishment of internationally active companies with high added value and well-paid jobs.
In view of this situation, the speakers present unanimously called on the German government to develop BER Airport into a hub by awarding flight rights to interested intercontinental carriers, as this would not only strengthen passenger traffic but also the cargo business. One candidate has been waiting in the wings for years: Emirates from the UAE. This was emphasized by Adnan Kazim, Emirates Airline CCO: “Emirates firmly believes that Berlin has great potential to become a successful destination for long-haul flights. We remain keen to offer flights from Dubai to Berlin Brandenburg Airport as soon as possible and, subject to approvals from the German authorities, to add Berlin to our route network alongside our existing four German departure airports. An Emirates flight connection would provide more opportunities for tourism and trade, as well as direct access for tourists and business travelers from around the world, and the cargo capacity to transport time-sensitive exports and imports.”
Hub promised, promise broken
Were the German government to grant route rights to Emirates, then this would create a sustainable stimulus to the city's economy, tourism, and the local Berlin job market. At the same time, there are promises from the government to develop BER into an intercontinental hub. Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, Chairman of the Board of Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH, reminded the audience of this. Literally, he said, “When BER opened in October 2020, (German) Transport Minister Scheuer spoke of the need to develop BER into an international hub. BER offers the best conditions for this: the necessary infrastructure is in place, there is demand from travelers from Germany and abroad for long-haul flights to and from BER, airlines are just waiting for approval and would take off immediately. For an economic and ecological restart of air traffic (after the pandemic) in Germany, it is necessary to adequately connect the capital region internationally in accordance with its geopolitical and economic importance. The Berlin-Brandenburg airport location cannot once again be in line behind cities such as Budapest, Prague, and Warsaw for direct long-haul connections as it was prior to the pandemic. We call on all stakeholders to pull together with Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport to develop the capital region and its airport into an international hub.”
Time is ripe for a turnaround in German aviation policy
What Luetke-Daldrup does not explicitly say, however, is that as long as Lufthansa has an important say in the allocation of air traffic rights and emphasizes its interests, its hubs FRA and MUC will probably continue to be favored by politicians in the allocation of traffic rights.
For Jan Eder, CEO of the Berlin International Chamber of Commerce, this is an untenable political situation: “Berlin is the capital of Europe's largest and most important economy, and also its scientific hotspot. Consequently, it is essential that business travelers, politicians, diplomats, scientists, and tourists have access to a wide network of long-haul connections that is internationally comparable with other capitals such as Paris or London - only this will do justice to the capital region. For a long time now, several international airlines have shown great interest in including BER as a destination in their services. New flight rights must therefore be negotiated as quickly as possible at the political level, so that the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan region does not lose its connection with the world's elite. We must not sleep through the new start in the post-Corona era!”
“We” probably means the Merkel government and its controversial Transport Minister, Andreas Scheuer.
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