Frankfurt Airport had to be closed to air traffic for several hours on Wednesday evening (16AUG23). The reason for this was torrential rain, which poured down on the area for nigh on two hours, resulting in 63 liters per square meter – an amount equivalent to the rainfall of an entire month. On the apron, the water was up to half a meter high in some places. Normal operations were unthinkable.
Rhine-Main Airport is familiar with capricious weather conditions. In winter, for example, heavy snowfall sometimes jeopardizes normal operations leading to complete standstill of flight activities. Last Wednesday (16AUG23), however, it was an extremely strong thunderstorm with unprecedented water masses pouring down that crippled all operations at FRA. The airport is the largest gateway in Germany in terms of passenger and cargo figures and is the home base of Lufthansa.
“FRA, invest in boats!” was one recommendation
The storm began around 20:30 and lasted until shortly before 22:00. “The airport management should consider purchasing boats so that we pilots and our cabin crew can safely get from the terminal to the outside parking position of our aircraft on the apron without having to swim,” the captain of a leisure airline wryly suggested. Because of the storm, about 90 flights were canceled and 23 incoming aircraft were diverted to other airports.
Many passengers and shipments stranded
Ground handling had to be suspended for at least two hours because the apron was largely under water. However, more importantly: employees needed protecting from the lightning. Due to these safety precautions, numerous aircraft missed their slots. The responsible aviation authority did grant exemptions for takeoffs and landings between midnight and five o'clock in the morning, for which otherwise a strict ban on night flights applies. However, these extras allowances were not sufficient to get all the stranded passengers into the air that night. According to airport management estimates, thousands of travelers were directly affected by flight cancellations. They were put up overnight in various hotels located around the airport.
Twenty-five arrivals were also affected with some of them diverted to other airports due to Frankfurt’s night flight curfew. At FRA, departures or landings after midnight - except in dangerous situations - are prohibited for noise protection reasons.
Cargo luckily undamaged
An initial survey by CargoForwarder Global about possible water damage to cargo shipments or packaging showed a clear picture. Of the companies asked, none reported any damage. “We did have a lot of water on the roof of our freight terminal, but not inside. So, no harm was done,” Henning Dieter, CEO Germany & Austria Swissport Cargo Services, summed up the storm effect. Dominik Misskampf, Managing Director CHI Cargo Handling International, and Elke Stoeber of LUG aircargo handling GmbH, delivered similar insights. Elke added that presumably only a small number of shipments was affected – if at all – because when the chaos started, the bulk of the goods was already in the air and on way to its respective destinations. Imports were not affected at all as flights were diverted.
Besides Rhine-Main airport, the city of Frankfurt was also severely hit by the thunderstorm. The local fire department reported 515 calls for urgent service. Some subway stations were flooded, and the water masses also inundated numerous cellars, basements, and low-lying garages, which required pumping by the firefighters.
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