Germany’s Frankfurt Main opened its new northwest runway on October 21. Tom Allett reports.
Another lap in Europe’s capacity race was completed on October 21 when Frankfurt Main (FRA) opened its new 9,186ft (2,800m) runway, 07L. It was first proposed 14 years ago and cost around €600m (US$811m) to build as part of a wider €4.3 billion (US$5.8bn) airport expansion.
Widely referred to as the Northwest runway, 07L can only be used by landing aircraft – any types smaller than a Boeing 747 – but its introduction enables parallel take-off and landing operations and will help to incrementally raise FRA’s co-ordinated runway capacity from the current 83 to 126 movements per hour. The airport says this capacity increase will enable it to meet the predicted growth demand from passengers and airlines. Its forecasts predict that nearly 90 million passengers a year will fly to, from or via FRA in the future. ADB provided the new runway’s lighting system, working with Swiss integrator Lucebit.
The first aircraft to land – right on time at 14:30 – was a Luftwaffe Airbus A319 carrying the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and a number of other VIP guests. They then had just a short walk to a marquee set up alongside the runway for the occasion.
The inauguration was a truly national event with Chancellor Merkel being joined by Hesse Prime Minister Volker Bouffier, Frankfurt am Main Lord Mayor Petra Roth, Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz and many other business and political leaders and airport managers. In all, around 400 guests were welcomed by Dr Stefan Schulte, Executive Board Chairman of Fraport AG, who stressed the importance of this infrastructure investment for Germany’s “export-oriented economy.” Welcoming Chancellor Merkel and the other VIPs, he commented that the first landing marked the successful conclusion of one the largest infrastructure projects in Germany. He added: “This new runway will allow Frankfurt Airport finally to overcome its capacity constraints and to offer the international aviation industry growth opportunities once again. Equally important, we will now be able to deliver our airlines and passengers even better punctuality and quality of service.”
Despite Germany’s forthcoming new Berlin Brandenburg Airport, which is due to open in June 2012, and the continuing expansion of Munich Airport in the south, Dr Schulte reminded everyone that Frankfurt is by far the largest airport in Germany and one of Europe’s major hubs for passengers and cargo tonnage.
He continued: “We are the largest hub for Deutsche Lufthansa and the Star Alliance. Some 40% of our traffic is in the intercontinental segment; two-thirds of all intercontinental traffic in and out of Germany flies via Frankfurt. This underscores the real function of our airport: to serve as the gateway to the world for Germany and the German economy.
“No other airport in Germany can take over this function, which is why the expansion of Frankfurt Airport is so important to the country and to the economy of Hesse and Germany.”
These days, almost every airport development attracts some kind of protest and FRA’s new runway and wider expansion is no exception. Opposition came from local residents unhappy about expected noise levels. After a great deal of research and consultation, shortly before the new runway opened Fraport and environmental campaigners agreed with a mediator’s recommendation to ban night flights between 23:00 and 05:00 local time every night.
Although Fraport then recommended that 17 take-offs or landings be allowed per night during the current winter schedule, a local court subsequently imposed a ban from the end of October.
Though the move is said to be temporary, no end date has been announced. This has obviously been a considerable disappointment for all the companies involved in night-time operations, especially the cargo carriers. Fraport didn’t publicly complain too loudly about the ban at the time of the announcement as it hoped that, with time, the restriction will be relaxed. However, during the run-up to the opening, others saw the curfew as an immediate problem. Lufthansa was the most vocal, asking for the runway’s introduction to be delayed until a suitable compromise could be agreed.
During the opening ceremony, however, both airport and national airline were united in their message about the need for night-time flights. Lufthansa’s Christoph Franz took the opportunity to put the curfew in the headlines by saying: “The ‘price’ [in terms of restrictions] for this runway is very high; too high, I could say. While we will take the opportunities offered by this expansion, there’s no party atmosphere within my company.”
Fraport’s Dr Schulte said that in order for the airport to maintain its leading role, it needed the “right framework conditions, politically as well as legally.” He added that the airport urgently needed a “pragmatic ruling – which is absolutely normal throughout our industry – for delayed departure flights that need to take off in the night hours, just like at every other airport.”
He continued: “We cannot have a situation whereby a fully loaded Airbus A380 is forced to stay on the ground and unload its passengers just because its departure slot has been delayed one minute past 23:00.”
Underlining Frankfurt’s role as Germany’s ‘Gateway to the World’, Dr Schulte said: “The reason why we are so concerned about the night-time ban being imposed on us by the Hesse Administrative High Court… is because of the importance of overnight operations for cargo in an international economy that’s increasingly organised via the global division of labour – but also, in particular, because the temporary ban comes at such short notice just before the start of the new winter timetable.
“This is all the more reason why a final decision on the night-time issue needs to be made quickly by the German Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig – one that takes into account the interests of both the noise-blighted region as well as the airlines operating worldwide.
“Let me reiterate that, compared to the 40 to 50 night-time flights we currently have between 23:00 and 05.00, it will certainly be noticeably quieter.”
Dr Schulte acknowledged the importance of taking into account the views of the airport’s neighbours and to control noise levels in the region. “We all have a responsibility and we must diligently continue the efforts that we – the airlines, the politicians, the communities, the Aircraft Noise Commission, DFS [German air navigation service] and Fraport – have started via the ‘Forum Airport and Region’ with initiatives such as the first active noise abatement package, the new noise index and the study of the effects of noise.”
These projects involve monitoring aircraft noise and flight movements, investigating the use of various measures to reduce noise and optimising aircraft departures and arrivals.
Based on an aircraft noise abatement act, the state government of Hessen has also issued a noise abatement zone order for Frankfurt Airport. This establishes the noise reduction zones for a new passive noise abatement programme.
In addition, there is the Casa Programme (CP): this offers financial compensation on a voluntary basis to property owners – through the purchase of their property or settlement payments – suffering additional noise from low-flying aircraft using the new Northwest runway.
“The task force that has been deployed here is the right path to take; the next steps have to be taken consistently,” said Dr Schulte.
“The importance of dialogue and of clear and transparent communication about infrastructure projects is underscored by Frankfurt’s expansion. In this case, many of the right things have been done. Together, we have set national standards by creating the mediation group, by continuing these discussions in the regional dialogue forum and now via the Forum Airport and Region – and by seeking the broad involvement of society as well as political support across party lines.”
As 2011 marked FRA’s 75th anniversary, during the summer it held a ‘Happy Landings’ open day on the site of the new runway. Dr Schulte concluded his speech by referring to it, saying the airport’s many years of continuous dialogue in the various forums has resulted in airport expansion continuing to receive widespread support from the majority of the population – “naturally in tandem with the demand for further success in achieving noise reduction.”
He added: “At our celebration this summer over 200,000 citizens got to experience the new runway firsthand. This also shows the high acceptance for airport expansion in our region.”
New Fire Station
ICAO’s regulations demand that airport fire crews must be able to reach an incident on any part of the runway within three minutes – so the Northwest runway needed its own fire station, FRA’s fourth, adjacent to the new landing strip. Construction work on the two-storey 43,056 sq ft (4,000m2) building began in February 2010, but what’s different about this facility is that it’s part of Fraport’s substantial efforts to reduce its CO2 emissions. Regular readers of Airports International will know that Frankfurt became a founding member of the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme in 2009 and was subsequently the first European airport to achieve accreditation, so it’s no surprise to hear that the building had been planned to be carbon-neutral from the outset.
Fraport says that Fire Station 4, which accommodates some 50 firefighters, requires 90% less energy for heating and cooling than a conventional station. Its heating and cooling needs are provided by geothermal heat pumps connected to pipes that extend approximately 325ft (99m) into the ground, and the electricity required for the pumps comes from renewable energy sources. Hot water is generated by a 215 sq ft (20m²) solar thermal system on the building’s south façade. Meanwhile, a new training area adjacent to the fire station allows Fraport to consolidate all fire training at a single location.
“Capital spending for the project will amount to €13 million [US$17.4m], including the additional costs required for implementing our sustainable building and energy concept,” said Dr Schulte, adding that the concept will pay off in the long term. Peter Schmitz, Fraport Executive Board Member responsible for real estate and facility management, added: “Due to savings in investment costs for heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and because there will be no need for costly connections to district heating and gas supplies, we’ll be able to keep building costs at a low level and reduce operating and maintenance costs by half.”
The airport’s fleet of fire trucks has been increased in order to equip the new station with two of the six new FLF Z8 XXL crash trucks from the Albert Ziegler GmbH & Co company already in service.
The author would like to thank Robert Payne and Roy Watson for their help with this article.