Frankfurt Night-Flight Ban Imperils City’s Ambition as 5,000 Target Runway
German film and television actor Tankred Benecke isn’t expecting much fan-mail from business chiefs in his home city of Frankfurt.
Benecke is one of 5,000 locals to besiege Frankfurt airport on Monday evenings as part of an anti-noise protest that has won an interim ban on night flights and is now targeting the closure of a new runway. Civic leaders say the restrictions will hurt the hub and undermine the city’s international ambitions.
“Before the runway opened it was noisy when the wind came from the east, but now they are flying directly over our house,” said Benecke, 46, who lives with his family in the district of Sachsenhausen, across the River Main from downturn Frankfurt. “I’m woken at five in the morning and sit bolt upright in bed.”
Europe’s third-busiest airport needs extra flights to narrow the gap to London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle and stay ahead of hubs in Amsterdam and Madrid, owner Fraport AG says. Limits on air links could also thwart Frankfurt’s plans to build on its status as the German financial capital and become a tier-one global city, according to the city chamber of commerce.
Fraport fell as much as 2.3 percent and traded 1.6 percent lower at 44.63 euros as of 1:52 p.m. local time. It has declined 1.5 percent since Oct. 10, the day before the night-ban verdict, while Germany’s 50-member DAX Mid-Cap Index is up 18 percent.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the airport’s No. 1 user, was 2.2 percent lower today and has added 9.3 percent since the ruling, lagging a 14 percent improvement for the 30-stock benchmark DAX.
The fourth runway, which opened Oct. 21 and cost 760 million euros ($1.2 billion), permits parallel landings for the first time, lifting capacity from 500,000 flights a year to 700,000, or 120 an hour. The airport handled 453,000 movements in 2010 from three runways, or about 90 percent of the maximum.
Though not permitted to handle the biggest jets such as Airbus SAS’s A380, the 2.8-kilometer (1.7 mile) runway should help increase overall passenger capacity to 88 million by 2025, according to Fraport projections. The hub attracted 56.4 million travelers in 2011, a gain of 6.5 percent, compared with 69.4 million at Heathrow and 61 million at Charles de Gaulle.
Located northwest of the main airport complex in the direction of the city center and less than one mile from the towns of Kelsterbach and Eddersheim, the new strip operated for just nine days before the night-flights ban from a Hesse state court took effect. A final ruling will be made in Leipzig at an administrative court following a hearing that starts March 12.
The ban, outlawing takeoffs and landings between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., comes after Frankfurt handled as many as 50 services a night last summer, with even a compromise allowing a rump service pending the Leipzig decision having been disallowed.
The temporary deal would have permitted 17 flights a night, 10 of them dedicated freighter services from Lufthansa, the biggest cargo carrier among the world’s passenger airlines.
Germany contributes 50 percent of European air-freight consignments, with half of the country’s total, or 2.3 million metric tons a year, operating out of Frankfurt. One-third moves at night, especially to and from North America and China, according to Lufthansa Cargo AG, which has put a 1 billion-euro investment plan on hold pending next month’s final ruling.
Confirmation of the ban coupled with a continuing campaign to limit further growth might even prompt Lufthansa to review its entire hub strategy, said Martin Harsche, aviation economics lecturer at Frankfurt’s University of Applied Sciences.
Though the airline moves 50 percent of its goods in the holds of passenger planes which fly mainly from Frankfurt, and bases 18 Boeing Co. (BA) MD-11 freighters there, it has alternative freight hubs at Munich, Leipzig-Halle and Vienna airports.
“Lufthansa will always try to concentrate its cargo and passenger capacity, and that’s necessary if Germany is to stay competitive,” Harsche said, adding that the carrier has shifted hubs in the past, having been based in Berlin before World War II before focusing on Hamburg, Cologne and finally Frankfurt.
Frankfurt’s freight-handling capabilities will be weakened by the restricted operating hours, according to Fraport Chief Executive Officer Stefan Schulte, who said the campaign against the fourth runway itself could fundamentally undermine Hesse’s ability to compete with other international metropolitan areas.
“The growth potential of the new runway is of decisive importance for the economic strength of the state,” Schulte said in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg News.
Airport access is the third most important factor for foreign companies investing in Germany, according to a study by the European Center for Aviation Development, a think tank set up by Fraport, Lufthansa and Darmstadt’s Technical University. Only road links and the supply of skilled labor ranked higher.
“There are many businesses in the Frankfurt region which are here because of the quality of the logistics and transport connections,” said Andreas Freundt, head of the Frankfurt Chamber of Commerce. “Interrupting the supply chain would have far-reaching consequences for the whole economic cycle.”
Frankfurt airport is Germany’s largest employer at a single site, with a 71,000-strong workforce, according to Fraport’s website. The company reckons 300,000 people in the wider economy depend on the hub for their livelihood, putting the noise issue high on the agenda in local elections to be held on March 27.
Still, environmental campaigners dispute the economic arguments, and are pressing for an extension of the night ban to run from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., a reduction in hourly frequencies and an immediate shutdown of the new runway.
Not So Local
“The very few jobs that would be affected can’t compare with the effect on local residents and particularly children,” said Ingrid Kopp, 60, a spokeswoman for the Coalition of Citizen Initiatives, which organizes the weekly protests.
The extra runway is also hurting property values, according to Mark Fiedler, a real-estate agent in Lerchesberg, beneath the flight path, who hasn’t disposed of a single house since operations began after selling eight in the prior six months.
“We can’t even say what the actual effect on house prices is because there’s absolutely no demand,” Fiedler said.
Opponents of the growth plan also say that the airport is as much a hub for Germany and Europe as a local gateway. More than 50 percent of passengers transfer between flights and never enter the city, according to the most recent Fraport figures.
Saskia Sassen, a sociologist at New York’s Columbia University who popularized the concept of the “global city,” said Frankfurt already lags behind other European population centers for “liveability” and needs to address popular concerns.
“The expansion of the airport, besides the actual noise, leads residents to ask themselves whose city this is,” said Sassen, who has advised Frankfurt on its urban strategy.
Air-industry academic Harsche reckons one tactic, though not attractive to Fraport, might neutralize the opposition.
“The best solution would be to pay compensation,” he said. “But that will be extraordinarily expensive.”