The Frankfurt airport operator believes that air traffic will soon reach pre-crisis levels. Fraport is putting the northwest runway back into operation and Terminal 2 as well. Citizens’ initiatives criticize that.
FFor Fraport AG, it is a signal of departure from air traffic to the shareholders for the time after Corona: The airport operator will open the northwest runway again in time for the Annual General Meeting on June 1. Likewise, Terminal 2. For the alliance of Frankfurt citizens’ initiatives against aircraft noise, on the other hand, this day will mark the end of a period of rest – and a step that, in their view, is not necessary in view of the possibly restrained growth in traffic. The northwest runway, the centerpiece of the expansion of Germany’s largest airport, should – if at all – only be used as an “overflow”, they demand.
In fact, the traffic figures in Frankfurt are still weak and have recently recovered more slowly than the industry originally hoped: In the first few months of this year, the total number of passengers in Frankfurt was 3.4 million, a decrease of 83 percent compared to the first four months of the last pre-crisis year 2019. And the consequences that Fraport had drawn from the crisis were correspondingly drastic: 4,000 of 22,000 jobs were cut and the commissioning of the new Terminal 3 was postponed several times, now to the year 2026.
More air traffic again in the long run
On the other hand, traffic may return more slowly than expected, but it does. And for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic, Fraport was able to record “high growth rates” at all international Group airports from Lima in Peru to Xi’an in China. Although the description “high” is relative, because some airports such as Lima and Ljubljana (Slovenia) were completely closed at times, so international business is recovering on a very low basis.
The fact that the international traffic flows have fundamentally changed with Corona, however, is not provided by the figures for air freight traffic: In April, for example, cargo handling in Frankfurt – despite the failure of the additional cargo capacity of the parked passenger planes – is a good 13 percent higher than in the last pre-crisis period. April 2019. In addition, progress has now been made in combating the pandemic, and hopes that travel will return in the summer are increasing. A survey by Wakefield Research on behalf of the SAP subsidiary Concur showed that 96 percent of those who went on business trips before Corona want to do so again in the course of the next 12 months – regardless of the triumph of digital conferences.
According to the study, respondents believe that face-to-face contacts are necessary to close more deals and renew existing contracts. The German air traffic control in Langen assumes in its planning that the flight movements in July will reach around 50 percent of the volume of the comparable month of 2019, in September 55 and in December 65. It also has a more optimistic forecast ready, each around ten percentage points sees more traffic. The DFS has also calculated a more pessimistic variant, which this summer assumes a maximum of 40 percent of the traffic from 2019. Nevertheless, according to the air traffic controllers in Langen, there is more evidence that air traffic will increase significantly again in the longer term.
Sensitive for citizens’ initiatives
From the point of view of the citizens’ initiatives, it is not only the increase in itself that is tricky, but also the fact that noise-reducing procedures such as the so-called segmented approach, in which densely populated areas are flown around, are flown less often and ultimately not at all, the stronger the Traffic will. Apart from the fact that in the end the pilot decides.
The desire of the citizens’ initiatives to only use the Nordwest-Bahn as an overflow is currently unrealistic for several reasons: One day, more landings would have to be handled via the Centerbahn again. For Offenbach, for example, this means more aircraft noise because the noise spreading that actually provides for landings on the northwest and southern runways to relieve Offenbach no longer works. In addition, DFS cannot simply do without the fourth runway when the volume increases, provided that air traffic is handled smoothly and safely. And last but not least: This would reduce the expansion project itself to an absurdity, which would hardly find a political majority at the moment.