Frankfurt Airport opens historic new runway; European #1 ranking in sight as Lufthansa looks to grow network

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government A319 was the first aircraft to land on the new 2.8km ‘Runway Northwest’ on a foggy Friday. She was greeted by Dr Stefan Schulte, executive board chairman of Fraport. Merkel described FRA as “a key engine of growth” that is “of crucial importance for Germany as an export nation” to the audience of 400 people.

Last week’s opening of a fourth runway at Frankfurt Airport marked a significant moment in the airport’s history. thought this was too major of an event to miss and travelled to Frankfurt Airport on the day.

Having seen passenger numbers grow by 76% between 1991 and 2000, traffic has grown by less than 10% during the subsequent decade, partly as a result of capacity constraints. The third runway is for take-offs only, while the newest addition is a runway for landings.

In both 1991 and 2002, Frankfurt Airport had precisely 35.5% of the total German airport market while passenger numbers in the country grew by over 70% in the intervening 11 years. However, 2003 saw LCCs finally develop in the German market with their growth focused away from major hubs and instead targeting major regional airports. As a result, between 2002 and 2008, Frankfurt’s share of the German market fell from 35.5% to 28.0%. During this period, German airport traffic as a whole grew by 40%, but Frankfurt’s traffic increased by just 10%.

Chart: Frankfurt Airport 1991-2010 - Annual passengers (millions) and share of German airport market

Source: ADV

The new runway initially increases capacity from 82 to 90 movements per hour – and eventually by 50% to more than 120 movements per hour. In the medium-term, the airport’s plans foresee increasing capacity to around 100 movements per hour by 2015 – and with expected annual traffic growth of 4-7%, FRA could be handling 65 million passengers per year by that time.

German flag-carrier Lufthansa has its biggest base at the airport and accounts for over 60% of scheduled seat capacity and around 65% of all scheduled flights, making it over 15 times bigger than its nearest rival, Condor. Thanks to Lufthansa, Star Alliance accounts for around 70% of seat capacity at the airport. Despite this, each week, the airport welcomes 100 airlines other than Lufthansa to the financial heart of Germany.

US and Germany battle for leading country market status

Analysis of German government statistics reveals that last year the airport handled almost the same number of passengers on domestic flights as it did on transatlantic flights to the US. Due to its central position, the airport ranks only third for domestic traffic in Germany, after both Munich and Berlin Tegel.

Chart: Frankfurt Airport top 12 country markets - Annual passengers 2010 (millions)

Source: Destatis

Apart from the US, other leading long-haul markets (shown in light green) are Canada, China and India. At present, a total of 96 foreign countries are served by direct non-stop flights from Frankfurt.

At the opening event for the fourth runway, Dr Stefan Schulte, executive board chairman of Fraport, explained that 40% of the airport’s traffic is intercontinental, while two-thirds of all intercontinental traffic in and out of Germany flies via FRA. “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.”

germanwings starts first route; Norwegian changes mind

The opening of the fourth runway and the resultant increase in runway capacity presents opportunities for new and existing carriers at the airport to develop their networks. The following table is a summary of known new services planned to start from the beginning of the winter season (30 October 2011) onwards.

Destination Airline Launch date WF (comment)
Aberdeen Lufthansa 30 October 2011 21
Baltimore/Washington Condor 2 July 2012 2
Banjul Condor 1 November 2011 1
East Midlands bmi regional 31 October 2011 16
Klagenfurt Lufthansa 5 November 2011 2
London Gatwick Lufthansa 30 October 2011 14
Milan Bergamo Air Dolomiti 21 December 2011 12
Nairobi Condor 7 November 2011 2
Pristina germanwings 5 November 2011 1 (first FRA route)
Rijeka Condor 5 May 2012 1
Rio de Janeiro Lufthansa 30 October 2011 5 (resumption)
Salzburg Lufthansa 30 October 2011 28 (replacing Austrian)
Tokyo Haneda ANA 21 January 2012 3
Toronto Condor 22 June 2012 2
Source: new route database

For Lufthansa’s low-cost subsidiary germanwings, the new weekly service to Pristina marks the airline’s first route from its parent company’s biggest base. This raises the interesting question of what else Lufthansa may have in mind at the airport for its sister company and whether it could be used as a strategic tool in persuading other LCCs (or even airberlin) to stay away from the airport. Lufthansa’s nearest rival in the German market has less than 2% of flights at the airport and serves just two destinations with at least daily flights; Berlin Tegel and Palma de Mallorca.

One LCC that had announced a new service was Norwegian, which had planned to start a Copenhagen – Frankfurt service to compete with SAS and Lufthansa early in November. However, the route was quickly pulled when bookings presumably fell significantly short of expectations. As a result, none of Europe’s four biggest LCCs (Ryanair, easyJet, Norwegian and Vueling) offer flights to Frankfurt, a situation the airport is no doubt keen to rectify.


  1. Allplane says:

    In a recent conference on aviation I attended in the Netherlands, someone asked the people from KLM and Schiphol whether the Gulf carriers increasing presence in Europe were the main threat AMS was facing as a hub…and they said no, it’s FRA’s new runway and all the extra capacity Lufthansa will be able to deploy in KLM’s feeder markets such as UK’s regional airports and Scandinavia (we are seeing it already with the new route to Aberdeen).

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