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The 700 trucks that trundled their way through Riem during the night of May 16 to 17, 1992, strikingly marked the start of the success story of the new Munich Airport in Erdinger Moos. That was 25 years ago and this anniversary was fittingly celebrated in 2017. Public awareness of this smooth relocation made Munich Airport known the world over. The airport is today a sought-after partner for airport projects from Honduras to Singapore and thanks to its vast expertise is tapping into new business areas that go far beyond straightforward relocation projects.
Start-up assistance in Egypt
Before Patrick Muller sits down on the small couch in the meeting area of his office and sips his heavily sweetened mocha, he has already traveled quite a distance. He even managed to negotiate the Cairo traffic reasonably well today. Police checks in recent days had repeatedly resulted in long delays – the security situation in Egypt, which brought tourism virtually to a standstill, remains tense. Before the 57-year-old arrives at his office in the Airport Master Control Center of the brand new Terminal 2, he makes the same rounds every morning: first along the passenger route, past check-in, then through the security area, passport control, and customs. Mr Muller looks at the shops and casts a glance at the toilets. He greets the cleaning staff and chats to the handling staff. One might call this «management by walking around» since the expert from Munich Airport is the official operations manager for the new terminal in the Egyptian capital.
Flughafen München GmbH was awarded the contract for a two-stage project in 2016. Once the old terminal from the fifties had been torn down and completely reconstructed, consultants from Munich took over preparations for the start-up: Mr Muller and his team of up to 23 employees in total designed all processes – from security, police, customs, check-in, baggage handling, loading and unloading logistics through to concepts for the commercial use of the space. Their first task prior to starting was to train the more than 1,000 employees. When the terminal commenced regular operations in September 2016, the Munich colleagues even joined management forces and took over management of the terminal operation on a temporary basis. The Cairo Airport Company wanted to ensure in this way that all operations processes in the new terminal were functioning as efficiently as possible and that know-how could be passed on gradually to the Egyptian managers.
The Egyptians will take the helm in 2018
«It has all worked out very well to date,» says Patrick Muller. «We will conclude this phase to plan in 2018 and be able to hand over responsibility to expert Egyptian hands.» Mr Muller is particularly proud in this respect since management positions in Egypt are sometimes filled based on loyalty and not just professional merit. «It was therefore essential with such a system to identify, coach, and develop the right people.»
Munich impresses on world stage
The consultant already has a vast wealth of experience in the aviation sector under his belt, having formerly worked for Air France, in Heathrow, Frankfurt-Hahn, Doha, and Dubai. He therefore knows exactly why more and more airports around the world are bringing the experts from Munich on board for large-scale and sensitive projects, not least the operators of the airports in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur: «Germans are disciplined, matter-of-fact, and content-driven, essentially characteristics that customers need for demanding projects and are quite willing to buy in.» The second reason for the increasing success of the international business is the excellent reputation Munich Airport enjoys in the aviation sector. «One of the best airports in the world, the best terminal in the world, constructed fully with own funds, persistently on time and on budget – these factors are impressive,» says Mr Muller.
Ivonne Kuger put together a team of around 60 consultants so that as many airports as possible can benefit from the wealth of experience available in Munich. The operations manager for international business at Munich Airport, which was spun off into a separate limited company (GmbH) last year, hardly ever gets to see most of her colleagues. «They are based for months, sometimes even years, with our customers all over the world,» says Ms Kuger, who herself worked for almost ten years in Thailand, India, and Oman. In Bangkok in 2005 she organized the relocation of the airport to its new premises some 45 kilometers away, involving more than 3,000 truckloads and 800 loads in Doha in a tight timeframe of just one night.
The portfolio of the Munich experts extends far beyond relocations, however, and covers complete planning of complex airport projects through to management of airport facilities and changes in operational concepts, which become necessary over the course of time owing to increased security requirements. «Other than actually flying, we have done it all,» says Ms Kuger proudly: «Shopping concepts, traffic flows, or designing baggage systems.» More than 50 projects in total in recent years, primarily in the rapidly growing aviation markets in Southeast Asia, in the Arab world, in Africa and Latin America, but also in Eastern Europe.
The move from Riem to Erdinger Moos was an organizational masterpiece – and the 25 years since then have been a story of long-term, sustained success.
A night to remember
In terms of acquiring new projects, Munich Airport’s international business is still feeding off the spectacular relocation of Munich Airport from Riem to Erding 25 years ago. Hans-Joachim Bues was responsible for the campaign at the time as a young press spokesman. Now Senior Vice President Corporate Communications at Munich Airport, he opens a cabinet in his office with its far-flung view of the northern runway and takes out his press badge from back then. He kept the badge, since the night of May 16 to 17, 1992, was an acid test for the then 33-year-old journalist. In his first job at a company – his previous professional positions were with Bavaria's public broadcasting service and the Federal Press Office – he had to look after 700 media representatives, 150 of whom came from abroad. They followed the logistical feat throughout the entire night from the press center at the new airport. Minibuses brought the journalists to all flashpoints of a move the likes of which the world had never seen before: an entire airport was to be relocated within a period of just 16 hours. 5,000 helpers and 700 trucks were on hand, years had gone into planning and preparing the campaign.
Planning versus reality
All eyes were on Munich and the pressure on Mr Bues and his team was immense. «Of course some things went wrong,» reports Mr Bues. For example, it was planned that the first official arrival would be two Lufthansa aircraft called Erding and Freising – on two runways at the same time. But on the night of the move, two other aircraft beat them to it. On one hand a small emergency aircraft and also an Aero Lloyd airliner, which had already requested clearance for landing from the air traffic controllers in Austrian airspace. The prepared press release was thus obsolete and the then airport boss Willi Hermsen was more than a little frustrated at a press conference that night. Also because the first S-Bahn suburban train, which entered the terminal early in the morning, was not painted in the airport’s blue color as had been elaborately agreed with the rail company. And to compound matters, it was a short train thronged with the first passengers.
«Simply world class!»
Yet apart from these few small details, the move went smoothly and Germany’s Bild tabloid newspaper ran the headline the next day: «Das war Weltklasse!» («Simply world class!»). This high-profile launch of flight operations also marked the beginning of much more active corporate communications for Munich Airport at the Erdinger Moos site. «This event brought us into the public eye and we have stayed there ever since. In other words, we have to deliver.»
Airports are places of yearning
For Mr Bues, aviation is something that is close to his heart. As a young man he wanted to be an air force pilot, but failed at the time owing to a red-green color weakness. An ANA Dreamliner from Tokyo is just landing behind him on the northern runway. There is a strong easterly wind blowing this afternoon, but the long-haul Boeing aircraft vibrates barely noticeably and glides gently to the ground. Even if the cockpit was not for Mr Bues: «Airports are places of yearning, both for myself and for journalists. That is what makes PR work for an airport so attractive – especially if it is an airport of such high standard and with such a beautiful and spacious architecture as Munich.»
Yet enthusiasm for flying and a great airport are not enough on their own to ensure convincing corporate communications in the long run. As the operator of a large transport infrastructure, Munich Airport has to justify itself time and again to the outside world and face up to critique. This is particularly true of expansion projects like the third takeoff and landing runway. «There are obviously going to be clashes of interest that cannot ultimately be overcome and it’s difficult to combat emotions with hard facts,» says Mr Bues. But with open and comprehensive communication, the airport can at least create transparency. He does not try to conceal the fact that in an age of digitalization, of Facebook and Twitter, as well as changing media usage it is increasingly difficult to even reach a public that is fragmented into many components and spheres of interest.
Tens of thousands attend anniversary celebrations
The goal of the anniversary celebrations in 2017 was therefore to address as many target groups as possible. Thus a number of attractive festivities took place at the airport itself in addition to a state reception in the Munich Residenz. 7,000 employees of the more than 500 companies based at the airport celebrated the airport’s anniversary, while the music and family days organized in conjunction with the Bayern 3 radio station were attended by more than 50,000 visitors, primarily young people and families.
Infrastructure projects come in for criticism
The message that Munich Airport wanted to convey was clear: the airport and its excellent facilities and connections offer a crucial advantage for everyone in the region. «It is great when people in and around Munich can enjoy the benefits of their airport, but this is not simply a given,» says Mr Bues. He thinks back to the time the airport was opened 25 years ago. «People at the time were critical of the allegedly mammoth proportions. It is pretty much beyond dispute now however that the decision in favor of the new construction was a windfall for Munich and the entire region.» And he adds that a comparable decision now has to be made as regards the third takeoff and landing runway.
Terminal 2 bonanza
A further bonanza for the airport came in 2003 with the opening of Terminal 2. This was the first time an airport operator got together with an airline to plan, finance, construct, and operate a terminal building. It is only thanks to the cooperation between Munich Airport and Lufthansa that the present hub was created and also only thanks to the coupling of regional demand and transfer traffic that the many attractive connections from Munich to destinations all over the world are now possible. After Frankfurt, the Bavarian capital now offers by far the best flight connections of all German airports.
At the same time, the success of Terminal 2 is a strong driver for the airport’s international business. «The joint venture with Lufthansa impresses worldwide,» says Ivonne Kuger. The 44-year-old enjoys taking potential new customers on tours through the brightly lit terminal with its beautiful, spacious, clearly defined architecture and also describing the processes which – among others – are responsible for the airport’s 5-star rating in international rankings. «Our airport is the best showcase for our services,» she says and also counts lunch in one of the airport’s restaurants, which typically rounds off the tour, in this assessment: «Bavarian charm contributes to the authentic character in Munich too.»
Munich is one of the ten most profitable airports in the world
What impresses Ivonne Kuger’s potential customers perhaps even more than the local specialties is the profitability of Munich Airport – counting among the top ten in the world in this respect. «Guests are also impressed by the fact that all investments since the new construction have been funded from own resources. In terms of global comparison, this is not something that can be taken for granted,» says Ms Kuger. This is an argument she uses for her presentations too when it comes to new consulting, management, and training services.
Projects from Honduras to Singapore
Ms Kuger and her team are currently working on 15 projects which, in addition to Cairo, are taking place in the Ecuadorian capital Quito, in the new airport in the capital city of Honduras, in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. The Munich experts will organize the move by Turkish Airlines to the new mega airport in Istanbul, thus supporting the largest start-up and relocation in aviation history. Business is booming and Ms Kuger is constantly on the lookout for new employees. Experience with airport operations is a key requirement in this respect, «a little kerosene addiction» also could not harm. Above all, however, candidates must be prepared to spend longer periods abroad.
Like Patrick Muller. He is just back from his second round of the terminal in Cairo and is treating himself to another Mocha. It is half past ten, the first traffic peak of the day was half an hour ago. His «management by walking around» has brought him through his terminal again, this time to the basement to the employees in the baggage handling facility. He can be found then in the check-in area during the second peak time in the afternoon between three and four. «Being on the ground is the best way for me to see if there are any problems,» he says. «Colleagues here also like personal contact, you might just as well forget about e-mails in Egypt. If you want to get something done, direct communication is the only option. And with lots of tea and coffee.»
Kerosene is in the blood
Just when he will leave Cairo is not yet certain since Munich has offered support for an additional phase. Fortunately his wife has now moved to Cairo too and is enjoying the city and country with its historical treasures. Mr Muller himself has not yet seen the Pyramids of Giza however, though they are only around 30 kilometers away from the airport. As the saying goes, «Kerosene is in the blood».