Endlich ein Artikel zum Luftfrachtstandort Hahn von einem Fachmann, der vom Realismus geprägt ist, und nicht die gewohnte Hurra-Berichterstattung, wie in der regionalen Presse, die von keiner Sachkenntnis getrübt ist!

Auslastung der Flüge von British Airways Cargo auf den Flügen nach:
1. Atlanta
2. Hongkong
3. Johannesburg

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Beyond the Big Four
Alternative European airports hope to become freight gateways, but so far the results are mixed

Peter Conway

To some extent, the story of Europe's air cargo hubs seems to be that the big are getting bigger. The big four - Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam and London Heathrow - all saw healthy cargo growth of between 8.4 and 11.4 percent in 2004, and fourth-placed Heathrow had twice the tonnage of No. 5 Luxembourg.

Yet talk in Europe about alternative gateways is hardly diminishing. Air cargo exhibitions are filled with the stands of hopeful alternative cargo hubs - Vatry, Vitoria, Hahn and Ostend, to name but a few. These airports tout a new service from some African or Middle Eastern cargo airline, or say they are in "advanced discussions" with a major Asian carrier.

But, in reality, their progress often is one step forward, two steps back. The idea is there, but the cargo doesn't look quite set to follow.

Part of the problem is that although the airports see themselves as a viable alternative, cargo carriers usually see them only as a stopgap. Frankfurt Hahn, a former U.S. airbase 60 miles from the main Frankfurt airport, arguably fell into this trap in September last year when British Airways World Cargo started routing two of its freighters through the airport, adding two more in November.

That was a key factor in boosting Hahn's flown tonnage 80 percent to 66,145 tonnes in 2004, and led the airport to hope it might become the hub for all 10 of the 747 freighters British Airways routes via Germany each week.

But the fine detail might have given the airport pause. BA moved its first freighter to Hahn because of noise restrictions at Cologne for one weekly freighter flight en route to Johannesburg; the second freighter, a Hong Kong service, was added for crewing reasons.

Gareth Kirkwood, British Airways World Cargo managing director, admits he would like to fly all 10 freighters out of one airport, but it is a fair bet that the main Frankfurt airport is the one he has in mind. "We have only just started to operate out of Hahn, so I can't say if we would commit to it in the longer term," he said in August.

By September, the Hahn flights were back down to two a week.

Hahn has been here before. In the late 1990s, Malaysian Airlines had an ambitious plan to make the airport its cargo hub, but in 2001 new management scrapped the plan. Hahn's cargo operations went back to a few weekly flights by the likes of Egyptair, Iran Air and Turkey's MNG Airlines.

Two carriers that like Hahn, however, are Aeroflot and Air France. The Russian carrier shifted its freighter hub there from Luxembourg in 2000, and now has 13 flights, operated with four DC-10s, out of the airport to Moscow and China.

"It is not so close to any town, but between all the major European cargo hubs, and it has 24-hour operations and flexible slots," says Oleg Korolev, Aeroflot's regional cargo manager Europe. "All the other airports we operate to apart from Moscow have strict slot regimes. In the old days, we often had to sit in Moscow waiting for Luxembourg to open."

Korolev insists the lack of major forwarders at Hahn is not a problem. "Big forwarders have huge volumes and can deliver them in their own trucks," he says. For smaller forwarders, Aeroflot has recently started a trucking service to other Europe hubs.

The other fan of Hahn is Air France, which has a trucking hub there, adding some 125,000 tonnes of cargo a year to Hahn's volume - extra tonnage that often creeps into the airport's figures in airport league tables.

But while Vatry in France has a large TNT logistics operation next door, there is not yet an example of a trucking hub turning into a flight hub. Hahn still awaits flight operations from Air France.

Perhaps Hahn's biggest lack - apart from a runway too short for fully loaded and fuelled 747 freighters, a problem that is being rectified - is an integrator presence. This is undoubtedly the royal road to success for any alternative cargo airport. Look at Liege in Belgium, which now ranks a mighty eighth among European airports, with 382,325 tonnes of cargo in 2004, on the strength of being TNT's European air hub.

Or Nottingham East Midlands Airport, which has overtaken London Gatwick to become the United Kingdom's second largest cargo airport, with tonnage of 254,029 tonnes, a figure includes "transit" cargo that never leaves aircraft. It nightly hosts 20 DHL flights, six UPS flights, and two TNT flights. It is also a stop on the trans-Atlantic freighter flights of DHL and UPS.

Although this boosts total volume (NEMA has more tonnage than Istanbul, Munich, Moscow or Rome), the impact on regular cargo operations is debatable: NEMA has had mixed success attracting more traditional freighter operators for years.

Bill Blanchard, its cargo development manager, says just 29 percent of tonnage is non-integrator traffic. Kalitta Air flies weekly en route between Chicago, New York and Kuwait, while Icelandair operates weekly and Bluebird Cargo of Iceland four times a week. The cooperation between Lufthansa and DHL also means it has 15 flights a week via NEMA.

But despite intense overcrowding and a complete lack of new freighter slots at Heathrow, NEMA has failed to win any big Asian carriers. For a few years Cathay Pacific used NEMA for one freighter a week during the winter, but it has consolidated operations at Manchester, which also hosts freighter operators such as Dragonair and China Airlines. Since Manchester owns NEMA, Blanchard can't complain. "At least it keeps these operations in the family," he says.

He remains hopeful NEMA will get its own Asian freighters in time. "As congestion in the southeast of England makes freighter operations there impossible, carriers will turn to the next airport with a long runway and strong cargo infrastructure, and that is NEMA," he says. "So it is not a matter of if, but when."

NEMA is not the only airport hoping to pull off the trick of adding conventional air cargo to integrator operations.

Liège for a time played host to Atlas Air's ultimately doomed attempt to set up freighter "fractional leasing" operations, but since the project's demise Liège has lost carriers such as Polar Air Cargo to Amsterdam. And Leipzig-Halle in Germany, which last year beat out Vatry to replace Brussels as DHL's main European hub, also hopes the win will stimulate more mainstream traffic.

Eric Malitzke, Leipzig's managing director, is fond of saying that the DHL decision "put Leipzig on the map" and he has been travelling to Asia and the Middle East making the most of the airport's newfound prominence. The results so far are a weekly DC-10 charter to Africa operated by Ugandan carrier DAS Air and three AN-12 flights a week to Moscow by Atran.

Malitzke says he is in discussions with an unnamed carrier about 747 freighter operations to Asia, and he can also expect that Lufthansa Cargo will move the five intercontinental routes it operates as a joint venture with the DHL to Leipzig when hub operations start in 2008, adding more general cargo capacity.

But he insists Leipzig is different from other alternative cargo airports. "We have excellent road infrastructure, and it is just as quick to truck to Munich or Northern Italy from here as from Frankfurt, and faster to Hamburg and Scandinavia," he says. Although Leipzig has with Siemens, BMW, Infineon and Dow Chemicals all within the vicinity, Malitzke says its location at the heart of Europe is what matters. "Air freight is delivered all over Europe anyway," he says. "You might as well land it here, which is much cheaper than Frankfurt or Amsterdam."

Leipzig knows the importance of attracting freight forwarders to generate air freight traffic. Malitzke admits this is one of his major priorities for the next few years, and he is dangling such carrots as access to the ramp.

But the airport need not worry too much. With DHL's operations alone, its traffic is likely to soar to 600,000 tonnes in 2008, making it Europe's sixth or seventh largest cargo airport. In 2004, its throughput was just 15,000 tonnes.

Another strategy some would-be cargo airports are using is going for niche cargo.

Perishables is usually the one chosen, and France's Vatry International has had modest success with it. Even more successful has been Vitoria in Northern Spain.

That is in part due to the strange management set-up at the airport, which was designed in the 1970s as a new airport for Bilbao. That city's inhabitants preferred their existing airport, however, and Vitoria was largely mothballed until the early 1990s, when the Vitoria city government and its chamber of commerce set up a non-profit venture, VIA, to promote the airport as a cargo hub.

The airport has attracted carriers such as Cargolux, Cielos de Peru and British Airways to make stops on the way back from Africa or South America. With a 34,200-square-foot perishables facility, it boasts quick transfers to trucks and good road links not just with Spain but to the rest of Europe.

Ricardo Gonzalez, the director of VIA, has gone further, however, and taken the step of actually organizing flights on behalf of forwarders and shippers. His vehicle for this is VIAS, Vitoria Integrated Air Services, a combination handler and charter broker created in 2001.

"If VIA sees an opportunity, they ask VIAS to exploit it," says Gonzalez. Since he is head of both entities, he is presumably often asking himself.

Perishables - mainly fish, for which the Spanish have a voracious appetite - are the main target. Gonzalez's looks at fish-producing parts of the world and then try and find the lift to satisfy the market. In 2002, VIAS chartered a Gemini DC-10 to fly fish from Montreal, sending Spanish vegetable and salad items back in the opposite direction, and in 2004 he persuaded Air Canada to include a stop in Vitoria on one of its scheduled MD-11 freighters to Frankfurt.

In February 2006, he is also hoping to start a 737 service between Reykjavik and Vitoria, carrying fish southbound and Spanish fruit and vegetables northbound. And he always has a clutch of other ideas. Nile Perch from East Africa? Fish from Mexico? One long standing dream is to start a route to the Canary Islands and Mauritania or Senegal in West Africa, aimed at carrying mining equipment and other capital goods southbound and fish and other perishables northbound.

This helped Vitoria to clock up 43,683 tonnes of flown cargo in 2004. But this is a fishy story with a sting in its tail: some 65 percent of this traffic is accounted for by good old-fashioned integrator traffic. Most of that - 26,000 tonnes in 2004 - is due to DHL, which uses Vitoria as an Iberian and Moroccan sub-hub.

And growth has been fitful. The 2004 total was 8.7 percent up on 2003, but only 2.8 percent higher than 2002, and less than 2001, when the airport reported 45,000 tonnes. DHL as much as fish is responsible for Vitoria's scale: in the first half of 2005, the integrator put smaller aircraft on some of its routes into Vitoria, and total volumes at the airport fell 7 to 8 percent.

So no alternative airport in Europe has yet found a successful strategy for attracting general cargo, unless one counts Luxembourg, which despite passenger traffic ranks fifth on the continent with 712,954 tonnes of cargo in 2004.

But alternative cargo airports still have reason for hope. In September, the European Commission published a paper on airport capacity which warned that by 2025 Europe's top 20 passenger airports would be saturated for most of the day, while a further 40 airports would be congested.

That suggests cargo airports may yet have their day - if the facilities are still cargo airports by then. Both NEMA and Hahn have a new growth business, but it is as hubs for low-cost passenger flights. For now, at least, Ryanair and EasyJet, are more attractive customers in Europe than Africa-bound freighters.

Originalartikel in Air Cargo World Online vom November 2005
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