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An agreement by AN-124 operator Polet Air Cargo to open a base at Hahn, the former American military airbase turned low cost airport near Frankfurt in Germany, is just the first of several "hot items" in the pipeline for the airport for this year, according to Maria Miller, its marketing manager.
The Polet decision means that it will open an office at Hahn to join those in Cyprus, Moscow and New York, as well as basing one of its AN-124s permanently at the airport.
Two or three other deals are also on the horizon, but Muller is unable to talk about them as yet. But she does feel things are moving Hahn's way. "Cargo carriers have to look for every penny right now and some of the mega-hubs are just too expensive. Hahn is a good alternative for carriers who want to streamline their cost base."
Regular cargo operators at Hahn include Iran Air twice a week with leased B747Fs, Aeroflot four times a week with DC-10s, and "semi-regular" flights from the A300Fs of Turkey's MNG. The airport also gained a weekly A300B4 from Egypt Air in December, and plays host to flights from Ukranian carrier Volare Airlines and Jet Air, which flies mail to the German forces in Skopje in Macedonia.
That is still a far cry from the heady days two years ago when Hahn was MASKargo's freighter hub in Europe, a time when its flown cargo volumes reached 75,000 tonnes. In 2002, they were just 22,408 tonnes, down on the 24,000 tonnes reached in 2001. However Muller says the trend was upwards in the first three months of 2003, with a 40 percent year on year rise in tonnage.
Part of the reason was a surge in charter traffic, particularly relief flights to Kuwait. "We are very busy with this traffic at present," says Muller. "Just recently we had two DC10s and one AN124 booked from Niklas Air Charter Service."
As for attracting more Asian carriers, that might have to wait until Hahn's runway extensions are completed. Currently the runway is too short for fully laden longhaul flights B747Fs - which was rumoured to be one of the reasons Malaysian withdrew.
A 300 metre addition which will bring the airport`s single runway to 3345 metres is due to open in September, but that will mainly benefit US carriers, bringing the US east coast within reach for the first time. Asian carriers would most benefit from a proposed further extension to 3800 metres, but that will not be ready until 2005. – Peter Conway