For German airports, as well as for Lufthansa and Co, the seventh calendar week was a week better forgotten. The glitches and neck snaps came in daily. On Wednesday (15FEB23), damaged fiber optic cables led to a complete breakdown of data flow between airlines, airports, and ground systems at Frankfurt and other international German airports. It was followed on Thursday by a hacker attack on Dusseldorf and several other airports. The negative climax followed on Friday, when an influential labor union went on strike, largely paralyzing flight operations at seven German airports. Hebdomada horribilis! A horrifying week, especially for Lufthansa and its freight arm, Lufthansa Cargo.
Misfortune seldom comes alone, goes a proverb. This was proven last week when German aviation came close to a collapse.
The drama, which lasted three days, began on Wednesday (16FEB23), when construction workers involuntarily destroyed fiber optic cables during ground works in the greater Frankfurt area. They thus paralyzed Lufthansa's entire electronic messaging system, including that of Frankfurt Airport. Just as bad: a backup was out of order. Consequently, flights had to be canceled or diverted to Munich, Dusseldorf, or Cologne. This, because managing the flow of tens of thousands of passengers and moving high volumes of cargo consignments on the ground, was not possible any longer since data was not available. For cargo, this meant that most shipments could not be allocated.
New acceptance time: next day
Faced with the IT collapse, Lufthansa Cargo stopped all bookings for freight shipments, from, to or via Frankfurt, its key global hub. Arriving flights were diverted to other airports, namely Stuttgart, Cologne, and Munich. At the same time, air controllers and Rhine-Main management decided to shut down the airport until late that evening, when the cables’ worst damage was fixed.
On the next day (16FEB23), the websites of several German airports were disrupted or unavailable. Officials at Nuremberg Airport suspected that it was caused by hackers, presumably Russian trolls, that launched an avalanche of electronic requests, thus overstraining the systems. In addition to Nuremberg, Dusseldorf and Hannover were affected as well.
Rüdiger Trost, Presales Team Manager of the security company, WithSecure, explains: “Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks can be carried out quite easily.” The attackers need little IT know-how. Trost points out that recently, they have frequently originated in Russia. “We just had a cyberattack on the Scandinavian airline SAS the night before (15.02.23),” Trost revealed. According to the security expert, it is a typical pattern “that hacktivists target infrastructures just when the systems are under severe pressure anyway.” Hacktivists are concerned with fomenting insecurity in societies.
Old school strike actions torpedo complex supply chains
More serious than the consequences of the hacker attack, however, was the strike on Friday (17FEB23), that paralyzed the five largest German airports and grounded most flights. Besides Frankfurt, these were Munich, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, and Stuttgart. Once again, home carrier Lufthansa and its freight arm Lufthansa Cargo were hit hardest. In total, LH was forced to cancel 1,300 flights.
Not only several hundred thousand national and international passengers, but also the global transport of freight and goods — including parts of humanitarian aid logistics — were directly affected by these strikes, criticizes Michael Hoppe, Chairman and Executive Director of BARIG — the airline association of national and international airlines in Germany: These walkouts at the major German airports severely impacted the movement of express goods, sensitive products, and other cargo, not only in Germany but worldwide, he stated. “To keep supply chains running, considerable volumes of freight had to be trucked to airports abroad such as Brussels or Liège, to connect with flights from there. The situation is particularly challenging for shippers of sensitive products and goods which requires fast, temperature-controlled transport is essential.”
The official went on to say: The strikes had also had a significant impact on the logistics of humanitarian aid deliveries to support earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria. These logistics chains are especially complex and highly sensitive.
Since the union bosses had only declared walkout of their members as a “last warning signal,” following weeklong consultations, a larger strike will soon follow if their demands are not met. They are pushing for a salary increase of 10.5% on average for ground workers at airports, with a runtime of only one year, but at least 500 euros more per month. Airports and airlines consider these demands as unrealizable. Jost Lammers stressed his incomprehension in a statement: “With these demands, the Verdi union is completely overstretching the wage dispute harming passengers and cargo customers alike,” said the president of the German Aviation Association (BDL), who heads Munich Airport as CEO.
Hence, the last word on this matter has not yet been spoken.
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