In a ruling on 11 October, the Administrative Court in Hesse banned night flights, scheduled for take-off in the period between 23 and 5 hours, at Frankfurt Airport from 30 October to coincide with the opening of the new and fourth runway at the Airport.
Prior to the court ruling, Lufthansa had assumed that the 17 night flights envisioned in the zoning plan would take place as planned in the winter flight schedules 2011/12. For Lufthansa Cargo, the major operator in Frankfurt during the night, the ruling is a severe blow. “In the air traffic industry, the timetable must be in place at least three months prior to the summer or winter schedules. That has apparently not reached the ears of the court in Kassel,“ remarked Lufthansa Cargo Chairman Karl Ulrich Garnadt.
Since the ruling came only a few days before the start of the winter timetable, Lufthansa Cargo had to put together an emergency timetable hastily for the period after 30 October. “We have at great expense managed to keep our customer services relatively intact,“ said Garnadt. Many flights had to be brought forward into earlier slots during the day or the early morning and evening hours. Individual connections, for example, to China, had to be cancelled.
Further flights to China will take off from Frankfurt in the evening but stop over for several hours at Cologne/Bonn Airport before flying on at nightime, as originally planned, in the direction of the Far East. “The night-flight ban has forced us to adopt a timetable that is economically and ecologically absurd,” Garndat underlined. “We will be operating in future with unnecessary take-offs and landings, which will lead to more noise, higher fuel consumption and additional costs running into millions.”
From January, at least one MD-11 freighter will be transferred from Frankfurt to Cologne/Bonn Airport. The freighter is to operate over-night flights to North America, which are indispensable for the German export industry and which can no longer be guaranteed from Frankfurt because of the night-flight ban.
Additionally, the night-flight ruling will not only impair Germany’s efficiency as an exporting nation, it also threatens jobs at the Frankfurt base. To express their resentment over the ban, more than 500 Lufthansa Cargo staff downed tools for 90 minutes at Frankfurt Airport last Tuesday (25 October) in protest at the court ruling.
“A night-flight ban in Frankfurt endangers thousands of jobs and risks the future of the German airfreight industry,“ said Ralf Müller, the Chairman of the Lufthansa Cargo works council, which called the staff out on strike. A night-flight ban will not only sever Frankfurt from global trade flows, it will do immense damage to the entire logistics industry.”
Aside from works council officials, the protest rally at the Airport was addressed by members of the Supervisory Board as well as the Lufthansa Cargo board members responsible for finance and human resources, and flight crew representatives. "Much of the freight is simply trans-shipped in Frankfurt. It arrives on passenger aircraft to be loaded onto freighters in the late evening. It then has to be flown off around two in the night so as to arrive – thanks to the time difference - in New York at six in the morning,” explained Captain Wolfgang Raebiger, Lufthansa Cargo Flight Operation Manager. Those night flights can only be operated at an airport, where many passenger aircraft land during the day.
The ban imposed by the Administrative Court in Hesse will stay in force pending a final ruling from the higher Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. Proceedings are scheduled to open there on 13 March 2012. A conclusive ruling on night flights is expected at the end of March next year.