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.
Markus 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.