Michael Garvens: International Hub – From Cologne/Bonn into the whole world

With a catchment area of 15.5 million people in a radius of
one hundred kilometres, an outstanding infrastructure and a
24 hour operating licence, the Cologne Bonn Airport belongs to the few airports in Europe with a great deal of development potential.

In the wake of technological progress and globalisation, global air traffic in the passenger and freight segment has experienced rapid growth in the past few decades. In 2014, around 208 million passengers used German airports and 4.5 million tonnes of cargo were transported by air freight. These figures underline the role of air traffic as a key sector for mobility and our transnationally networked economy.

The Cologne Bonn Airport particularly benefited from this upturn in air traffic. Today, the airport enjoys a prominent position as an economic factor, guarantor for mobility, job motor and location factor in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).

In the past decade, the passenger figures for the Cologne Bonn Airport have nearly doubled thanks to the boom in low-cost airlines – figures peaked at over ten million. Over 30 airlines connect Cologne/Bonn with 115 international and national destinations. The major German airlines such as Lufthansa with its subsidiaries Germanwings, Austrian Airlines and Swiss as well as Air Berlin and Condor use this airport, as do the low-cost industry leaders Ryanair, Easyjet and Norwegian. Tourist carriers, such as Turkish Airlines and SunExpress, complement the airline portfolio. The former government airport has become a gateway to the world. In 2014 and 2015, Cologne Bonn airport was awarded the world’s most prominent industry prize for the best regional European airport twice in a row, the Skytrax World Airport Award.

Cologne Bonn airport witnessed a very successful year in 2014. The Rhineland airport performed better than the German passenger market as the number of passengers rose to 9.5 million (up by four per cent). 350,000 passengers alone used Cologne Bonn airport for transfers and connections, which represented a 25 per cent increase and a new record for flight changeovers.


The highlight of the year was the successful bid for the new low-cost long-haul fleet belonging to the Lufthansa Group. Under the brand name “Eurowings”, reasonably priced intercontinental connections will be offered as of the end of 2015 from Cologne Bonn to ten destinations including in Asia, the Caribbean and the United Arab Emirates. This low-cost concept, which is unique in Germany, is being applied to long-haul flights. The new “Eurowings” home base creates the historical opportunity for Cologne Bonn airport to play an even greater role in international air traffic in the future and offer its passengers a greater number of intercontinental flight connections. A new long-distance coach station will also be opened at the airport at the end of 2015, allowing passengers to travel by coach to the airport for a reasonable price and, even better, change to a low-cost long-haul flight. A mobility concept that is completely new in Germany.
In the past ten years, the transport of airfreight experienced an above-average growth of around 50 per cent, despite the fact that DHL and Lufthansa Cargo relocated to Leipzig in 2008, which resulted in a loss of more than 200,000 tonnes of freight in one go. Since 2006, more than 400 million euros have been invested in the expansion of the cargo sector. Such investments have entailed the construction and expansion of the UPS sorting centre, the new building for the FedEx hub as well as the Cologne Bonn Cargo Center. Three-quarters of a million tonnes of goods, mainly express freight, are handled each year (2014: 754,000 tonnes). This ranks the Cologne Bonn airport third in Germany, among the top ten in Europe and makes it one of the 30 largest freight airports worldwide. Global players such as UPS and FedEx operate important European hubs, distributing their shipments around the world within 24 hours.

The airport’s dual business model of passenger transport and airfreight represents a unique selling point. No other German airport, when considering the prevailing conditions, offers such good development prospects to airlines. Particularly since the development of neighbouring hubs in Frankfurt and Düsseldorf is hindered by bans on night flights and capacity constraints. In comparison, Cologne/Bonn is equipped with three runways; the largest, being 3,815 metres long, is the only true intercontinental runway in North Rhine-Westphalia. The airport is easy to reach via motorways and highways and an underground train station connects terminals 1 and 2. Around 170 trains, including Intercity, regional and suburban trains, stop at the airport’s station every day. There are also 12,600 parking spaces available in three multi-storey car parks.

Airports are equally important centres for business, services and regional employment. When it comes to se­­lecting the location for a company, the airport connection plays an important role. Surveys on behalf of the German Aviation Association (Bundesverband der deutschen Luftverkehrs­wirtschaft – BDL), conducted by the European Center of Aviation Development, revealed that airports are an important, if not very important, location factor for the 86 per cent of companies operating nearby. 57 per cent of the companies surveyed stated that they would have invested in a different location if they had been faced with inadequate air traffic connections. And one in four companies would relocate if the flight routes ceased to exist.

Cologne Bonn airport is of major importance for both the companies located in the Rhineland and the people who work there: approximately 13,500 people work directly at the airport, while about the same number are employed in neighbouring companies that depend on the airport. All in all, this amounts to over 26,000 jobs and explains why Cologne/Bonn is one of the largest employers within the region with a total gross value creation of around 1.3 billion euros per year.


Cologne/Bonn is in favour of fair competition. A study carried out by the Handelsblatt Research Institute shows that airlines and airports are faced with competitive drawbacks when it comes to the location conditions in Germany, due to governmental restrictions, when compared to other countries. The best-known example is the aviation tax, which was introduced at the beginning of 2011. The design of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and above all the restrictions on the operating hours (ban on night flights) at German airports also pose extraor­dinary competitive disadvantages.

Cologne/Bonn is one of the last commercial airports in Germany where night flights are permitted. In order to keep the German export motor running, certain airports must continue night-time operations. Thus, Germany needs a national air traffic concept that acknowledges these airports as industrial centres of excellence and guarantees night-time operations. Night flights from and to Cologne/Bonn, in particular for freight, is a vital component of North Rhine-Westphalia’s export-oriented economy.

Balance between economic necessity and the interests of the local residents. Airport management regards it as their duty and task to strike the right balance between the economic necessity and the interests of the local residents. The Cologne Bonn Airport needs the acceptance from its neighbours. One important objective is to lower the noise levels for the local residents living in close proximity to the airport, for which the Cologne Bonn airport has established a comprehensive noise reduction programme. 85 million euros have been provided for passive noise prevention measures alone. The “Continuous Descent Approach”, which entails a noise-reducing procedure implemented at night, was made mandatory. Visitors of the airport’s homepage have been able to track every single flight live as well as check the noise levels at the airport’s measuring points. In doing so, the airport creates maximum transparency.

One essential part of the noise protection concept and the effective control instrument for reducing aviation noise at night is the tariffs policy. With the make-up of the take-off and landing fees, the airport provides strong financial incentives to encourage airlines to avoid night flights and use quieter aircraft. In order to achieve the best possible effect with this incentive, take-offs and landings are significantly more expensive during the night than in the day.

Over the past three years, the Cologne/Bonn airport amended its fees policy twice and again significantly increased the difference in charges between night and day, loud and quiet. By enforcing higher charges, loud aircraft are to be banished from night-time flights in the long run. The biggest alleviating effect is achieved by substituting the loudest aircraft with quieter ones. The airport company has been able to speed up this process through substantial financial incentives, such as rewarding the use of quieter aircraft, for example the Boeing 777 instead of the louder MD-11, with fee rebates amounting to almost one million euros.

Initial successes are already apparent: since the implementation of rebates, the use of the MD-11 cargo plane, considered as being particularly loud, has declined by more than one-third. During the same period, the number of flights utilising the Boeing 777 at a discounted fee has increased by more than 60 per cent. Today, over half of aircraft movements by large airfreight planes are carried out during the day. This is clear evidence of the correlation between increased charges, on the one hand, and rebates for the use of quiet aircraft, on the other hand. Additionally, measures concerning passive sound protection continue to be implemented without red tape. The 85 million euro programme and the comprehensive active noise reduction measures have paid off.

Climate protection is also one of the company’s goals. Long-term success can only be attained by conducting business economically with a focus on sustainable and climate-friendly objectives. We have committed ourselves to becoming C02-neutral in the future. The goal is to maintain a constant level of emissions at least (based on the levels recorded in 2005) in the long term. It is planned to no longer exceed the annual figure of 55,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide before 2020. There are five large photovoltaic systems situated at Cologne Bonn airport. Together they produce around 2,380,000 kWh of climate-neutral energy every year, supplying 680 three-person households and preventing 1,330 tonnes of C02 from being generated. The airport has invested more than seven million euros in these systems, and we will continue to pursue this course of action.

Air traffic remains a growth sector. Thanks to cross-border trade and peoples’ mobility needs, passenger figures and freight volumes will continue to increase around the world. The Cologne Bonn Airport is already an important hub today, and it will remain an essential factor for the people and the companies in North Rhine-Westphalia in the future – as an economic factor, guarantor of mobility, job motor or location factor.

Garvens-0-kopierenMichael Garvens
The author studied Business Economics at Hamburg’s business academy. He has been managing director of the Cologne Bonn Airport GmbH since 2002 and chairman of the management board since 2004. After gaining some initial work experience at the Hapag Lloyd airline in Hannover, Michael Garvens was managing director of the Globe Ground Berlin GmbH and a member of the Lufthansa group for over ten years.