Does the reputation of logistics reflect the importance of the industry for the national or even EU-wide economy? This is a particularly crucial issue for Leipzig/Halle Airport (LEJ) in
the German state of Saxony. There, the airport company along with DHL Express, cargo carriers, freight forwarders, and suppliers are by far the most important employers.
So, the question is: how accepted is air traffic – in particular, 24/7/365-operated cargo flights - by the residents in the Saxon city and the wider region?
CargoForwarder Global (CFG) talked about this crucial issue of public support or opposition to the role of the airport and logistics in general with Götz Ahmelmann (GA), CEO of Mitteldeutsche Flughafen AG ( LEJ + DRS).
CFG: Mr. Ahmelmann, Leipzig is a logistics hotspot. The inhabitants should actually be proud of this fact – are they?
GA: It was true for a long time, that well-functioning logistics operations were taken for granted. Just like many other things, such as IT within a company, it only catches people’s attention when it “doesn’t work properly”. The central importance of logistics as a lifeline for the economic system, was naturally appreciated by specialist groups, but not really among the wider public.
The Covid-19 pandemic fortunately changed this image significantly. The wider public became aware of the value of having stable supply chains and being able to supply goods and services to the population and the business world.
CFG: Speaking about the State of Saxony: Does the industry receive the appreciation it deserves from policy makers and by local media?
GA: Let me throw the question back at you with a twinkle in my eye: do you ever obtain the recognition from others that you believe you deserve? Seriously though, there’s a great deal of acceptance and support for what we’re doing in our region and among our direct neighbors.
The Forsa market research and polling institute published a representative survey about how people perceived Leipzig/Halle Airport in the neighboring region in 2022, and it emerged that 90% of the people who live round the airport recognize its importance as a driving force in economic developments and view it as an asset.
The high level of support is possibly based on the fact that many people in this region have personally experienced the direct connection between the fact that large companies set up business sites here following the German reunification, and the increase in prosperity. We’re also delighted by the huge support that we receive from politicians in Saxony and the adjacent State of Saxony-Anhalt. The dynamic development of the airport and the Central German region wouldn’t have been possible without this strong backing.
CFG: Sounds like everything is okay.
GA: Well, we make no secret of the fact that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to communicate the benefits of expanding infrastructure to the general public – for whatever means of transport – and obtain their support for this. I’m concerned that we’re forgetting the main benefits we achieved in the past: for example, the key importance of well-functioning and adequately dimensioned infrastructure for the growth and prosperity of a region.
The breath-taking success story of logistics at Leipzig/Halle Airport was only possible because very far-reaching decisions about the future course were taken more than 20 years ago: this created a highly efficient, multimodal infrastructure which connects rail, road, and air traffic, and not only attracted large companies, but also offered these firms long-term growth opportunities.
CFG: How many jobs at Leipzig/Halle depend on logistics and air freight?
GA: We’re continuing to grow at the site: more than 13,000 people are currently employed at the airport - more than 10,000 of them in the fields of freight transhipment, airline and cargo handling, as well as freight forwarding, logistics, and warehousing.
The e-commerce platform, Mytheresa, will start operating its logistics center right next to the airport fence with up to 1,000 employees at the beginning of 2024. And we’re also planning to employ more people in the cargo and logistics fields.
CFG: What is, at least estimated, the value added generated by these people each year?
GA: In my view, this question doesn’t go far enough: the macroeconomic significance of logistics as a site factor and a significant attraction for companies when competing with other sites around the world, is the major priority here.
Heavyweights such as Porsche, BMX, DHL, Amazon or Future Electronic have already set up business operations within a radius of more than 10 kilometers; this would have been inconceivable without the airport.
The same applies to the latest settlement projects involving billions of euros by high-tech giants from the U.S., such as INTEL and AVNET, or the world’s largest commercial vehicle manufacturer, Daimler Truck, in Saxony-Anhalt.
And other companies such as Mytheresa, Georgi Handling, and the Weerts Group are investing right next to the airport fence. Leipzig/Halle as an air freight and logistics hub is therefore the nucleus of long-term developments. As a result, it’s not just about jobs at the airport, but seen from a holistic perspective about the value-added chain in the entire region.
CFG: What can the airport and its partner companies do to raise the profile of air freight and logistics in the public eye?
GA: In my view, the key is to provide active and transparent communications. We take the concerns of our neighbors seriously and communicate this too. We’re accelerating our efforts to promote sustainability and will fulfil our responsibility for climate protection. One expression of this is our declared aim of operating the airport in a CO2-neutral manner from 2030 onwards.
In addition to this, the world’s largest research facility in the field of electricity-based fuels is being built in Leuna, just a few kilometers away from the airport. The German government is investing about half a billion euros in the facility, which is designed to make a crucial contribution to the manufacture of electricity-based fuels such as SAFs on an industrial scale as soon as possible.
We’ll also have to consider multimodal strategies which involve more than one means of transport in the sector.
CFG: What are the consequences for your airport of the loss of AirBridgeCargo, and Volga Dnepr’s charter flights, as a result of Western sanctions against Russia's war in Ukraine?
GA: We did experience short-term negative effects on our cargo business at the start of the conflict, which were initially compensated for. But the consequences of the Russian war against Ukraine are naturally more enduring. This is continuing to curb the demand for air freight and is having negative effects on global supply chains.
Then there is the market distortion for EU carriers in favor of non-EU airlines because of the closure of Russian airspace. The sanctions have also created a situation where CargoLogic Germany, which was based at Leipzig/Halle, halted its operations in 2022: the fleet comprised four 737F aircraft.
We’re very proud that the Ukrainian carrier, Antonov Airlines, has moved the base for its fleet of AN 124 aircraft completely to Leipzig/Halle, where the capacity provider set up a maintenance base back in 2006. Their freighters are constantly airborne and operate commercial as well as other flights in accordance with their NATO mandate.
CFG: Thank you Götz Ahmelmann for these insights.
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