On 25OCT21, Hahn’s airport management notified the competent court of the airport’s insolvency. The airport (HHN) belongs to the Chinese HNA Group (82.5%), which acquired the shares from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in 2017 for around €15 million. The remainder is held by the state of Hesse. HHN’s provisional insolvency administrator, Jan Markus Plathner, from the Frankfurt law firm Brinkmann & Partner, has now informed the press about the next steps to be taken to secure HHN’s survival.
The good news for employees and airlines using the airport, first: the approximately 430 employees working at Hahn will be fully paid their wages until the end of this year, thanks to legal
protection. This is also a great encouragement for another roughly 1,600 people, whether hotel operators, bus companies, caterers, or taxi services, whose income depends indirectly on the
airport’s existence. Secondly, flight operations, mainly cargo flights, will continue unabated despite the insolvency application.
The bitter news, however, is that a new investor must be found by the beginning of JAN22, to buy the airport out of the insolvency estate and continue to operate it, because that is when the state-guaranteed salary payments for the staff end. Against this background, the attorney raised cautious hopes that a suitable new investor will be found before the end of the year, nurtured by the fact that several interested parties have already knocked on his door, as Mr. Plathner confirmed.
Hahn’s pros and cons
The question is why any investor should risk putting his money into Hahn after others have failed to develop the place despite multiple efforts. A main disadvantage is certainly the geographical positioning of the site that is surrounded by potent competitors, such as Rhine-Main Airport, Liege, Luxembourg, or Cologne/Bonn. However, Hahn makes up for this with an unrestricted operating permit that allows 24/7/365 flights. An airport without any night flight restrictions is a rare asset in the German airport landscape, and a powerful sales argument at the same time.
In addition, it became clear at the event that the employees are highly motivated to contribute to maintaining the airport. This was emphasized by deputy works council member, Karl-Heinz Heinrich, in his statements at the event. According to him, there is hardly a skeptic among the employees who would not support the continued operation of the airport. This solidarity with HHN also applies to the vast majority of people dwelling in the vicinity. Protests against the expansion of the runway finalized in 2007, or actions aimed at banning night flights, are unknown in the region. This contrasts sharply the noisy minority of permanently outraged residents living near big Rhine-Main Airport, who keep beleaguering politicians and the airport management to further restrict night operations.
First step 1, then step 2
Where do we go from here? The next step will be for the insolvency administrator to appoint a general representative to ensure the continued operation of the airport. In other words, a kind of chief manager with extensive authority, who can instruct the current management. S/he is likely to restructure the organization and get rid of outdated customs and practices. Simultaneously, the search for a new investor who is interested and has the necessary funds to operate the airport from 01JAN22, will be intensified. For the existing shareholders, this means that they can write off their investments in the airport, because they no longer have any access to the insolvency assets.
In a nutshell: The insolvency administrator will initially concentrate on the sale and continued operation of the airport. Only then will the investigations begin into how the insolvency came about and whether there were any business processes or financial transactions in the recent past that were at least questionable. The results of all investigations will automatically be forwarded to the public prosecutor's office.
Please stay tuned.
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