German court halts night flights at Frankfurt Airport

The Hesse Administrative High Court in Germany has ruled to ban scheduled nighttime flights at Frankfurt Airport starting October 30. The total ban will stay in effect until the German Federal Administrative High Court in Leipzig can weigh in on the decision.

A night-flying compromise had initially been proposed by the Hesse court, which allowed the airport to operate 17 flights between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. This reduction in night flights was the price imposed for allowing Frankfurt workers to build a new runway.

Detractors next demanded a total night ban, and the Hesse court passed the complaint to Germany’s Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. Before the high court could issue a ruling, Hesse decided to make night flying illegal at Frankfurt.

Fraport’s Robert Payne, in an interview with Air Cargo World, said the Hesse decision has “caught a lot of people by surprise.” The superior court ruling will still take precedent, but although its decision could overturn the lower court’s verdict, the ban stays in place until a final result is determined.

“It remains to be seen how the German Administrative High Court will decide,” Payne said. “We don’t know exactly when their decision is coming.”

On Tuesday, Fraport released an official statement about the ban, outlining the challenges carriers now face. “Implementation of this decision means cancellation of some internationally coordinated slots already allocated to the airlines, and there remain only 19 days until the start of the new Winter 2011/12 flight schedule,” the statement read. “This creates a very difficult situation for the airlines, the cargo shippers, Fraport and, of course, the passengers, and it has implications for the worldwide network of flight connections.”

Payne looks at the ban as the price of adding a new runway, which he said will eventually increase movements at the airport by 50 percent. “This is very significant for us and for our customers,” he said, though he does allow that the nighttime ban on flying presents a challenge to scheduled carriers, such as Lufthansa Cargo, that depend on flying at night.

A total ban on nighttime flights will virtually kill off business for Lufthansa Cargo, the airport’s prime freighter operator, according to representatives from the carrier reached before the Hesse court’s decision was made public.

“The LH Cargo business model, in which we closely coordinate bellies and freighters through Frankfurt, would no longer be profitable if an absolute ban were imposed,” Lufthansa Cargo’s Nils Haupt said at the time.

Under the terms of the previous nighttime regime, Lufthansa Cargo had secured a fairly generous allocation of 11 of the available 17 slots. That, according to Haupt, would have been a poor long-term solution for Lufthansa Cargo. Eleven slots, he said, equates to the airline’s current requirements on night movements.

“We are not talking about the existing situation, but the longer-term growth of the cargo market,” Haupt said. “We have made a proven economic case to the government that we will require at least 23 nighttime movements by 2020.”

LH Cargo officials previously hinted at moving the carrier’s freighter operations away from Frankfurt entirely, but they admit there are limited alternative choices available.

“It has been suggested that we shift our operations to nearby Frankfurt-Hahn Airport,” Haupt said. “But to do so would require us to operate an additional 30,000 annual truck movements to make the 120-kilometer connection between the two airports, which are not linked by autobahn.”

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