Düsseldorf Airport, Germany's fourth-largest airport by passenger numbers after Frankfurt, Munich, and Berlin, is not known for handling large cargo volumes. And this despite the fact
that the federal state of NRW, of which Düsseldorf is the capital, is one of the most industrialized regions in Central Europe. So, why is it that cargo only plays second fiddle at DUS? And what
would have to happen for this to change?
Lutz Honerla, Head of DUS Cargo, is a seasoned man, not easily ruffled. However, when he looks out of his office window towards the east, he sees convoys of airfreight trucks heading to Frankfurt, Liege, or Luxembourg, or coming from there on their way to Scandinavia, northern Germany, or Poland. The majority drive past DUS. Why, CFG asks him? “Because we are traditionally a passenger airport whose use is severely limited by a strict night flight regulation, and which is only seldomly approached by full freighters, and because we are not home to any integrators,” is his answer.
Bellies come first
In plain language: belly freight is the daily business, while main deck freight is the big exception. However, with the bankruptcy of Air Berlin in the summer of 2017, an important belly carrier was lost. It had served important intercontinental routes to and from DUS, to the USA, for example, and, thanks to its widebodies, had offered a lot of cargo capacity in the lower deck compartments of the fleet. This gap has not yet been filled, especially since the Covid-19 crisis with its devastating effects on passenger traffic, made the situation much worse.
Pax traffic recovers tentatively
This was true for 2020 and most of last year. In the meantime, however, passenger traffic is gradually reviving, which has also led to an increase in ancillary cargo capacity. Yet, most of the routes offered to and from DUS are served by European carriers with narrow body aircraft, which either do not take cargo shipments or only to a very limited extent. But there are exceptions, such as the Turkish carrier, Pegasus, which has always been very cargo friendly. Sun Express, too, for example, which connects DUS with many destinations in the eastern Mediterranean. Above all, and of great importance for DUS, is the fact that Turkish Airlines operates a daily A330 connection to Istanbul, the airline's intercontinental hub, and this will increase to twice-daily flights in the coming summer schedule. Then there is Emirates, Düsseldorf’s largest airline in terms of flown cargo, which serves the Dubai route twice a day, deploying A380s or B777s. Emirates is the first long-haul carrier to have restored its pre covid cargo capacity at DUS. Qatar Airways is also expected to join in the foreseeable future. In any case, the airline has applied to the slot coordinator for flight times, and these have already been approved. It will also operate wide-body passenger aircraft on the Doha route, which - depending on the type of aircraft - can carry between 15 and 20 tons in their cargo compartments.
Expecting to surpass 41,000 tons
The fact that cargo volumes did not drop further in 2021 is due to the many preighters that landed at DUS. While these hybrid aircraft brought in around 3,000 tons in 2020, in 2021, the total had risen to 6,500 tons. Since the end of last year, their share has declined slightly but as mentioned before, passenger traffic is gradually picking up again.
According to manager Honerla, DUS handled 41,000 tons of airfreight last year. He expects an increase for this year. “We would be able to handle larger volumes without any problems thanks to sufficient capacity in the DUS Cargo Center. We were able to prove during the years of the pandemic, that we offer a very high quality of cargo handling - including full freighters.” Also, unlike the years before the pandemic, there are no slot problems at DUS. Newcomers or old customers such as the Japanese ANA or Delta Airlines from the USA, are therefore very welcome.
Whether and - if so - when they will return, is not yet foreseeable.
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