BER - for years, this acronym was synonymous with bad luck and mishaps. Not a month went by during the long and expensive construction phase of Berlin’s new airport, without a new scandal. The escalator in the terminal was almost a meter too short, and the smoke extraction system proved to be a complete disaster. Also, 1036 trees were planted in the wrong place around the passenger building and had to be uprooted again and moved to another site. Most annoying, however, was the huge cost increase from 1.9 billion euros when first plans were rolled out in 2006, to 7.08 billion euros upon completion in 2018. And then came the pandemic and air traffic collapsed. In the meantime, however, optimism prevails.
The turnaround has not yet been achieved, neither financially nor operationally, but the latest news is encouraging. This applies to both passenger and cargo traffic. The newest example is Norse Atlantic Airways. Since 17AUG22, the Norwegian low-cost carrier has been connecting the German capital with the USA (JFK). The flights are operated by leased B787, capable of carrying cargo loads of up to 25 tons per takeoff, depending on passenger baggage figures. With the winter schedule change, Norse reduced the flights to 3/7, and the BER-LAX route was discontinued altogether, at least for the winter season. However, a new rotation between Berlin (BER) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL) compensates for the loss. The inaugural BER-FLL flight is scheduled for next Wednesday (07DEC22), and the route will be served thrice weekly thereafter.
High load factor, says GSA
The New York route, in particular, has almost become a no-brainer in terms of air freight - thanks in part to strong promotion activities. “On this westbound route, the average load factor stands at 86%,” reports a representative of general sales agent, Aviation Plus, which exclusively markets the lower deck capacity of Norse’s B787.
The agent and the Oslo-based airline management hope to see similarly high cargo volumes on the Fort Lauderdale route. However, data shows that the capacity demand for eastbound flights is considerably smaller, as the U.S. traditionally imports more than it exports. But at Norse, Sales Agent Aviation Plus is rather positive: “the airline is a very agile, hungry start-up that reacts flexibly to market developments,” applauds one of the GSA’s top sellers.
Growing catchment area for cargo
Torsten Jueling, Head of Cargo at BER Airport, has a very similar view. Norse is a very welcome customer, he says, and an important capacity provider on North Atlantic routes from a cargo perspective. The broadened catchment area for cargo shipments destined to the U.S. contributes to this. According to the executive, no more than 20% of the tonnage flown westbound to the U.S., originates in Berlin and the neighboring area. Most of the goods are sourced in Poland, where the industries in Szczecin (ship spare parts) and Poznan (electronics, automotive) have taken a leading role as suppliers, he describes.
U.S. market is flourishing
Globally, “the USA is our strongest air freight market. But it would be even stronger if we had nonstop flights to Chicago and Atlanta in addition to the existing connections,” Jueling notes. In addition to start-up Norse Atlantic, United Airlines offers daily flights between Berlin and New York Newark (ERW), and will also connect the German capital with Washington starting next May. Delta Air Lines, too, has announced a daily BER-JFK (New York) service as of MAY23, operating B767 equipment.
Far East lags behind
In contrast, Berlin lacks connections to the Far East. Exception is Scoop, a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, that offers 3 weekly flights between BER and SIN. In August, Hainan Airlines returned to Berlin with a single weekly flight (Fridays), having previously stopped all services due to the pandemic. While (Beijing) PEK-BER is a non-stop flight, on the eastbound route its Airbus A330 has to first land in Dalian before continuing its trip to Beijing. This was decreed by the Chinese government as a measure to combat the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, the airline argues. Passengers are tested in Dalian before being allowed to proceed to Beijing, but cargo remains on board the aircraft and is not affected.
Jueling expects Hainan Airlines to up the frequencies to 5 times per week again, reaching pre-pandemic levels once Corona fades out or Xi Jinping and his administration ease their ultra-restrictive lockdown policy. “But irrespective of that, in 2023, we will step up our acquisition efforts to convince more East Asian carriers that it is worthwhile to add Berlin to their global network, both for passengers and air freight.”
On 30NOV22, the world-famous and multiple award-winning architect, Meinhard von Gerkan, died in Hamburg at the age of 87. There, together with his congenial partner, Volkwin Marg, he had founded the architectural firm Gerkan, Marg und Partner (gmp), which now has more than 500 employees. Since 1970, gmp won contracts for the construction of 370 major projects. These include Berlin's Tegel Airport, the passenger buildings at Hamburg Airport, the National Museum in Beijing, soccer stadiums in South Africa and Brazil, and the contract for the construction of the entire city of Nanhui near Shanghai. The last major project he designed and built was Berlin's BER Airport. However, after agonizing discussions and subsequent requests for changes from local politicians, he withdrew from the project before it was completed.
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