Markus Kopp: Leipzig/Halle Airport – The air node in the centre of Europe

BMW, Porsche, Quelle, Amazon, Dow Che­­­­mical and Dell – all these global multi-players have one thing in common: They are all located around Leip­­zig/Halle Air­­port. The airport only lo­­cates firms there if it is able to plan for the long term and only if companies see commercial pros­pects in an existing corresponding in­­fra­­structure. And here in Leip­­zig/Halle, where over one billion euros have been invested in motorways, federal highways and the railway over the last few years, com­­panies find it easy to plan for the fu­­ture. Without Leipzig/Halle Airport, the global multi-players such as BMW and others. would not have moved to Cen­­tral Germany.
Today, almost 60,000 starts and land­­ings and, thanks to DHL, Luft­han­­sa Cargo and others, a freight handling turnover of over 440,000 tonnes, make Leipzig/Halle Air­­port an airport of superlatives and it has since become the third-largest logistics airport in Germany. Over 4,000 people from the surrounding region are em­­ployed here and have thus found a fu­­ture.


The roots of this Central German economic miracle are to be found in An­­halt’s pioneering spirit and in the inventive drive – both traits that make the residents of Halle so idiosyncratic.
Like many big companies, Leipzig/Halle Airport started from very small beginnings. It all began with a hot-air balloon that a resourceful tinkerer sent up into the sky on 29 Sep­­tember 1845 in Halle. Thousands of residents spon­­­­taneously gathered on this sunny Mon­­day morning, look­­ed up into the sky – and could hard­ly avert their gaze from the miracle that was taking place only a few me­tres above their heads – and which also changed something in their minds.
More and more air travel pioneers then dared to partake in such balloon adventures until the people of Halle finally saw a real airship floating over their city in May 1909 for the first time. After that there was no stopping them – more and more new airfields sprang out of the ground around Halle and more and more crafty tinkerers wanted to gain experience with aerodynamics themselves. A Ger­­man air travel centre, right in the centre of the German empire, was born.

The enthusiasm of the people of Hal­­le for air travel was so great that the “Hal­­le­­sche Zeppe­lin­tag” (“Halle’s Zep­­­pelin Day”), with thousands of vi­­si­­tors from all over the world, was held on 14 Sep­­tember 1913. Crowds throng­­ed around Zeppelin no. 17, which bore the name “Sachsen” (“Sax­­ony”). It was 142 metres long and driven by three May­­bach en­­gines of 165 hp each).


At that time Halle already had an air­­port – its first – in the suburb of Halle-Beesen, but this only existed until 1914. In 1917 the Prussian Ministry of De­­fence then built one of Germany’s bigg­­est mi­­litary airfields near the village of Mötz­­lich to the northeast of Halle, where up to 120 aircraft were stationed at any one time.

But in accordance with the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, this airport had to be destroyed after the end of the First World War.
It was not until 1925 that space was made available in Halle for first sche­­d­­uled flights when the first aircraft landed here on 4 June 1925 on the oc­­casion of the “Germany-wide sightseeing flight”; Nietleben was official­ly opened just two months later. But it immediately be­­came clear that this was not enough. While Aero Lloyd con­­nected Halle with Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, Innsbruck and Stutt­­gart, the demand for air travel in central Germany was so great that Niet­­leben had reached full capacity after only a few weeks. And there were no further opportunities for expansion. Something new and bigger had to be built.
As the Reichsverkehrsministerium (Im­­­­pe­­rial Ministry of Transport) in Berlin wanted to restructure air travel in central Germany anyway, the idea of building a joint airport between the two ma­­jor conurbations of Halle and Leipzig arose. Against the – sometimes very bitter – resistance of the Leipzig city council and the responsible parties in Saxony, the daring plan was finally im­­plemented. The first sod of the new air­­port bet­­ween Halle and Leipzig was turned on 1 September 1926.

A hangar and an office building were built beside the landing strip in only eight months and the new Halle/Leip­­­­zig Airport (!) started operations on 25 April 1927. By 1929, in the midst of the most serious economic crisis the world had ever seen, over 20,000 passengers passed through it.


The degree to which the city of Halle lobbied for a new airport right from the start is shown by its participation in “Flughafengesellschaft Halle/Leipzig mbH” (Halle/Leipzig Airport plc), which was formed in 1928. And its success proved that the city was right. In 1937 Halle/Leipzig already oc­­cupied fourth place on the list of Germany’s busiest airports – more than 40 aircraft took off here every day. Had Halle’s city fathers not been so persistent with their idea of a joint airport, air travel in Central Ger­­many would probably be very different today.

On 1 September 1939, exactly 13 years after the first sod was turned, civil air traffic en­­ded in Halle/Leipzig. Ini­­tially, a refrigeration company, the state-owned “Ma­­schinen- and Ap­­pa­­ratebau”, was built on the grounds of the former airport in 1947. This com­­pany belonged to the German De­­m­­ocratic Republic’s newly developed air transport industry as from 1955. Then, in the early 1960s, when the Leip­zig/Mockau trade fair airport no longer met the requirements of the day, even the citizens of Leipzig, who had initially played a bit hard-to-get be­­cause of the Halle/Leipzig Airport, were glad that it had been remembered again. From 1963 on, the tarmac was used for the “Leipzig Trade Fair Airport” at least twice a year.
“Leipzig Airport” finally recommenced operations in 1972 – but the brave people of Hal­­le, without whom the airport would never have come into existence, were initially no longer remembered in the airport’s name.
Well, not until 1991, anyway. This was because after the state and municipal administrations had been reconstituted, the new company of Leipzig/Halle Airport GmbH was taken over by the states of Saxony, Saxony-An­­halt and the cities of Leipzig, Halle and Schkeuditz, together with the coun­ties of Leipzig Land and Delitzsch. And due to today’s participation by the city of Halle in Mitteldeutsche Flughafen AG, Halle also has an interest in Dres­­den Airport and hence interstate trans­­port policies.
Leipzig/Halle Airport is Central Ger­­ma­­ny’s mo­­dern, efficient gateway to in­­ter­­national tourist and commodity markets. Thanks to the far-sighted con­cept of its infrastructure, its location guarantees long-term planning and investment se­­curity to companies hav­­ing anything to do with airfreight. Halle’s first cautious experimental flights have grown into a Euro­­pean air hub.


“The price of size is responsibility” said no lesser personage than Winston Church­­ill. For this reason Leipzig/Halle Airport should, and still will, offer a link for companies in Central Ger­­ma­ny to the markets of the world in 20, 50 or 100 years.
Through its 24-hour operations for airfreight and the advantages offered by its location, such as its ideal geogra­­ph­­ical location in central Europe and the direct link of the passenger and freight operations to the trans-European motorway and rail network, the airport has the best possible fundamental conditions.

Through consistent expansion – which the city of Halle as a part­ner has subsidised to the best of its ability – Leipzig/Halle Airport has become a significant location factor within the region. All this would have been very difficult to achieve without the right location, so even today our thanks go to the stubborn people of Halle who knew that their dream of flying would receive – and who fought for – its rightly deserved place.


MMarkus Kopp was born in 1966. He has been sole member of the executive board of Mittel­deut­sche Flughafen AG, chairman of the supervisory board of the Leip­­zig/Halle and Dres­­­­den airports and a part­­ner representative of Port­­­ground GmbH and Eastern­ AirCargo GmbH since 2007. Before com­­ing to the airport holding, he managed the central office of the Luft­­han­­sa group Aviation Services & Human Resources executive board.