Court gives Frankfurt Airport green light to proceed with new runway and terminal project despite pending lawsuits
Proposed site of new runway at Frankfurt (graphic: Fraport AG)
Mon 19 Jan 2009 – Fraport, the operator of Frankfurt Airport, has been given the go-ahead by the state of Hesse’s Administrative Supreme Court to start construction work on a fourth runway and a third terminal. Hesse’s Economy Ministry had given its approval in December 2007 but environmental groups, local councils and affected residents had sued to halt the expansion project. The court rejected emergency appeals to stop construction until a series of forthcoming lawsuits starting in June had been heard but did agree to delay a decision on planned night flight restrictions, saying they were not far reaching enough.
The delayed €4 billion expansion project had originally called for the new 2,800m runway to be operational by no later than the 2011 winter timetable but is now expected to be inaugurated sometime in 2012. It will involve removing 162 hectares of Kelsterbach Forest and resettling a variety of protected animals. The runway will be used for landings only due to noise abatement restrictions.
Similar arguments to those used by supporters of London Heathrow’s proposed new runway and terminal have been used to promote Frankfurt Airport’s expansion project: it will ease severe capacity constraints, avoid losing traffic to other major European hubs like Paris, Amsterdam and Munich and lead to the creation 100,000 jobs.
In giving its approval to the project, the Hesse government had said it would allow 17 flights between 11pm and 5am each night, with priority for cargo flights, back-tracking on an earlier commitment not to allow any night-time flights. Airlines, meanwhile, had called for more such flights, with Lufthansa, which has a stake in Fraport, calling for permission for 41 flights per night. The national airline has transferred a lot of its long-haul traffic to Munich, where night-time restrictions are more lax, although environmental opposition to expansion plans at Munich has grown recently.
Fraport’s Executive Board Chairman, Dr Wilhelm Bender, said a year ago that the expansion of the airport was a “national task” and that Germany’s central airport needed a “secure future” to be successful at an international level since the number of passengers and the amount of airfreight was expected to double by 2020. However, Fraport has just released figures that show passenger traffic at the airport declined by 5.3% in December compared with the same month in 2007, aircraft movements fell by 5.2% while freight dropped by a dramatic 25%, attributed by Fraport to the weakening global economy. Overall, passenger numbers in 2008 totalled nearly 53.5 million, down 1.3% on the previous year, cargo dropped 2.7% and aircraft movements fell by 1.4%.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) largely welcomed the ruling to proceed with the new runway and terminal. “This is an important decision for Germany because a strong, competitive aviation sector with the right infrastructure supports employment and economic growth,” said Director General and CEO Giovanni Bisignani. “However, while the decision on expansion is welcomed, the proposed restriction on night flights is not. Frankfurt is a global hub that needs global connectivity. Severe restrictions on night flights constrain international cargo operations and will hurt economic growth. This should be reconsidered in a future court ruling.”