Leipzig/Halle outlines expansion plans

Germany’s Leipzig/Halle airport (LEJ) has a clear strategic plan to increase its cargo footprint, with a €500m investment package for expansion that includes a second Cargo City.

The hub, which saw a 7.2% rise in cargo volumes to just over 1.2m tonnes in 2018, already has integrator DHL as a major customer and the freighter operator has its own large-scale expansion plans at Leipzig/Halle.

But DHL is not alone in seeing the Germany hub’s cargo potential. In June this year, the airport’s state owners, Mitteldeutsche Flughafen AG (MFAG), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Group to “boost cargo infrastructure development” and establish LEJ as a “freight multimodal hub for scheduled and charter operations” for the group.

The pace of change at Leipzig/Halle has quickened with the arrival in October 2018 of Götz Ahmelmann as MFAG chief executive, joining from Germany’s now defunct low-cost carrier Air Berlin.

Of the planned €500m expansion, Ahmelmann says: “That is by far the largest investment programme at LEJ since the 1990s. It is a strong signal into the market: We are striving for more.

“We have two major projects. First of all, the expansion of the already existing DHL hub. Secondly, we have decided to build not less than a completely new cargo city in the north of the airport with new aprons, new hangars, office space etc.

“The projects will be completed over the next years according to our positive market development.”

The MoU with Volga-Dnepr Group mentions 20 weekly flights to/from Leipzig/Halle Airport from the end of 2021, gradually increasing to 50 in 2030. Are these firm commitments or aspirations?

Says Ahmelmann: “We have a successful partnership with our long-standing partner Volga-Dnepr. We have agreed to jointly develop Leipzig/Halle Airport as a multimodal, integrated airfreight and logistics site.

“This includes handling all kinds of cargo and establishing innovative logistics processes. The development of the planned flights represents a scenario that is based on specific plans.”

Capacity Bottlenecks

The press release announcing the Volga-Dnepr agreement states that there are “capacity bottlenecks” in air traffic across Europe, with Ahmelmann adding: “We have the capacity reserves that are urgently required.”

Is Leipzig/Halle aiming to win traffic from the legacy hubs of Frankfurt, Paris, London and Schiphol?

“LEJ is the ideal alternative to many capacity-restricted cargo sites. We’ve got plenty of expansion possibilities. We have an unrestricted 24/7 service for cargo airlines, no night curfew, and an excellent geographical position in the heart of Europe.

“Flight times to LEJ from the growing markets in eastern Europe and Asia are one hour shorter than from the cargo hubs in the west of the continent. We have strong arguments for LEJ.”
Ahmelmann does not agree with the description of his hub as a niche cargo airport, responding: “Cargo is in our DNA. Take a look at the figures: Around 1,000 cargo flights take off and land every week including 120 flights to and from Asia.

“Overall, about 50 freight airlines regularly use Leipzig/Halle and operate flights to more than 200 destinations every year. All in all, I believe that LEJ is in an excellent position to grow.

“And do not forget: the German government is actively supporting LEJ, which meanwhile is classified as an ‘airport of national interest’, playing the central role as cargo airport for Germany besides Frankfurt/Main.”

Although there is a vibrant passenger aircraft business at Leipzig/Halle, with Lufthansa, Swiss and Turkish Airlines present, there is little exchange with bellyhold cargo at present, but the promise of increased connectivity.

Observes Ahmelmann: “The majority of airfreight is moved on cargo flights. We can see currently, that belly capacity is becoming more and more popular for products like pharmaceuticals or valuables.

“The trucking network from Leipzig/Halle covers the needs in Europe and is being continually developed.”

The ambition is to develop Leipzig/Halle as a freight multimodal hub, what does that mean for railfreight in the future?

“In my view the further development of LEJ’s multimodal and intermodal capabilities is crucial. We are experienced in handling complete cargo trains, carrying ocean freight, at our rail cargo centre right on the airport. We plan to expand this business.”

DHL and Aerologic, DHL’s joint venture with Lufthansa Cargo, are existing customers. Given LEJ’s expansion plans, how much headroom (in terms of flights per night) does the airport have?

“The conditions in LEJ are almost ideal for cargo: we have a 24/7 operating permit for cargo flights without any limits and a parallel runway system with two runways, each 3,600 metres long.

“They are not subject to any restrictions and offer adequate capacity reserves. All this guarantees long-term planning and investment reliability for our customers.”

DHL Expansion

DHL has committed to expanding its footprint at LEJ, and has invested more than €600m since 2008, so it sees the opportunities for its parcel-driven growth.

What is the size and scope of the airport’s second Cargo City?

Says Ahmelmann: “Our strategy for LEJ is clear. Freight volumes have been growing for 14 years in succession. We want to continue this path. We are happy to have DHL as a key customer. So it is clear, that we push DHL’s expansion plans.

“On top of that we take into account the growing market needs in the long term too. This includes constructing office premises which will be built at various places at the airport and offer our customers the possibility of continuing to develop their business at the airport.”

Ahmelmann says that the new Cargo City will offer state-of-the-art-infrastructure as well as tailor-made facilities for all kinds of cargo.

He acknowledges the rapid development of the e-commerce sector and its opportunities for Leipzig/Halle but recognises that other freight sectors are equally attractive.

Says Ahmelmann: “The [e-commerce] growth rates are fantastic, the business is fascinating, and we are working hard on getting our share. But we also have the verticals in mind. LEJ already has the capability for handling refrigerated cargo. There is also a separate Animal Export Center available.”

Given Leipzig/Halle’s consistent growth and the capacity constraints at other European airfreight hubs, what is Ahmelmann’s cargo ambition for LEJ over the next ten years?

“We want LEJ to become the most innovative cargo hub in Europe. It is our goal to offer our customers the best conditions so that they can continue to grow in a dynamic manner.

“Alongside the e-commerce sector, the issue of humanitarian logistics is a market segment where we see huge development opportunities – together with our partners like Volga-Dnepr – so that we can guarantee fast and effective global aid via Leipzig/Halle in emergencies.”

With a background at a low cost carrier, what surprised Ahmelmann about airfreight, both positively and negatively?

“The main difference between airlines and airports (and the cargo businessespecially) is the status of digitalisation of the business.

“I’m exaggerating a little, to make the point: For years airlines concentrate all their efforts in strengthening the digital backbone and the frontend as well. On the ground you still have to handle with paper sheets.”

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Damian Brett

Damian Brett
I have been writing about the freight and logistics industry since 2007 when I joined International Freighting Weekly to cover the shipping sector.After a stint in PR, I have gone on to work for Containerisation International and Lloyds List - where I was editor of container shipping - before joining Air Cargo News in 2015.Contact me on [email protected]