Infrastructure – Short journeys for long-haul flights?

The apron control team directs aircraft on the shortest route to take-off or the terminal.

One of the main factors in Munich Airport’s success is its role as a hub, which provides outstanding connections to every corner of the globe. Lufthansa has now permanently stationed further planes from its long-haul fleet in Munich. As a result, the airport has become one of the four airports in Europe to house the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane. The goal now is to keep passenger journeys as short as possible, even when they are traveling long-haul. This is not a simple task.

A new giant in Munich: Lufthansa's Airbus A380.

It is one of those wonderful late afternoons you get in the Alpine foothills of Bavaria. The sun bathes the landscape in golden light; the warm air from the south means that the Alps appear clear and powerful, even from Erdinger Moos. Heading in from the west, the world’s largest passenger plane glides into Andreas von Puttkamer’s field of vision. As Senior Vice President of the Business Division Aviation at Munich Airport, he has been working with aircraft for the past 23 years. Nevertheless, he still pauses briefly to watch the imposing aircraft go past. The Airbus A380 is 73 meters long, 24 meters tall, has a wingspan of 80 meters, and is just arriving from Dubai. Emirates currently offers three flights a day between Dubai and Munich. On board there are up to 550 passengers spread out over two levels. The majority of passengers use the airline’s network out of the United Arab Emirates for connections to Asia, Africa or Australia.

Lufthansa’s new long-haul aircraft in Munich
«For a long time, Emirates was the only airline sending the A380 in and out of Munich,» says Mr von Puttkamer. This all changed with the introduction of the flight plan for summer 2018. Lufthansa now also stations five of its 14 Airbus A380s here, allowing it to offer connections to Beijing, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles. And since February 2017, Munich has also been the home airport for Lufthansa’s brand-new Airbus A350 planes, the world’s most cutting-edge and environmentally friendly aircraft. It consumes just 2.9 liters of kerosene per passenger per 100 kilometers in the air, which is 25 percent less than comparable aircraft. Thanks to its lightweight construction and state-of-the-art engine, the A350 is also significantly quieter when taking off and landing compared to similar models. As many as 15 of these aircraft could be stationed in Munich by the beginning of next year.

European peak reached for long-haul flights too
«With Lufthansa’s two decisions, our airport has finally made it into the circle of major European hubs, putting it on an equal footing with Frankfurt,» says Mr von Puttkamer with a smile. So, just how much of a difference does it make to an airport how far the aircraft stationed there actually fly? It does not take Andreas von Puttkamer long to list all the benefits of long-haul connections. On the one hand, air traffic charges depend on an aircraft’s weight and how many passengers it has. As the aircraft increases in size, so too do revenues for loading and unloading service providers as well as earnings in the terminals’ shops and restaurants. On top of that, there are economic effects for the region. The five A380 aircraft stationed in Munich provide about 500 jobs. Lufthansa alone already employs around 12,000 people at Munich Airport and is the largest employer on the campus.

However, Mr von Puttkamer believes that there is another factor more important than these direct effects and that is Munich Airport’s limited capacity. «We have a need for transport but we are suffering from shortages and will continue to do so until we can build the third runway. This is where these large aircraft can help as they can provide more capacity.» For instance, Lufthansa’s new A380 models will replace older type A340-600 aircraft. This means a 40 percent increase in capacity per flight. However, Mr von Puttkamer is clear that these large aircraft can only be used on routes with very high passenger levels. «Another benefit is that each new long-haul connection makes Munich stronger as a hub airport,» he says. The main beneficiary of this development is the region itself for one simple reason. For connections like the new route to Los Angeles, around 30 percent of passengers come from the Munich region while the remaining 70 percent are transfer passengers. «Without the hub status, around two thirds of the intercontinental connections into and out of Munich simply would not exist.»

The A380
in action in Munich

  • 9,639 km
    After eleven hours
    in the air, the
    A380 arrives
    from Los Angeles
  • 6
    The world’s largest passenger plane docks in one of six positions
  • 509
    passengers on board
    LUFTHANSA’s A380
  • 3,000
    cases fit
    into the body
    of the A380
  • 5
    The A380 takes off
    for one of its five long-haul destinations from Munich

Tough competition
After completing a degree in Business Economics at Munich University of Applied Science, Mr von Putt-kamer spent a few years working in sales and marketing at TUI and Airconti. In 1995, he moved to Munich Airport, taking over as the Director of the Marketing and Transport Development Department. He has been the Senior Vice President of the Business Division Aviation there since 2005. So all in all, he has been working to attract airlines to Munich for the past 23 years, making him something of an old hat in this field. Nevertheless, getting two of Lufthansa's new long-haul aircraft models to be stationed at the airport was not a simple task. «For both projects, we were in a tough battle with Frankfurt Airport, which obviously would prefer to keep its position at number 1.»

A successful partnership for Terminal 2
«We have a highly qualified and exceptionally dedicated team of staff, who give it their all when it comes to a feat like this. At the end of the day, it was a tremendous team effort,» says the boss with a smile. So, how did the Munich team manage to win over Lufthansa? After all, Frankfurt is an established hub for long-haul routes. «We are now reaping the rewards from our successful partnership for the operation of Terminal 2,» explains Mr von Puttkamer. Not only is this the only partnership of its type in the world, it has also generated some incredible results. In 2017, Terminal 2 was named as the world’s best airport terminal at the World Airport Awards hosted by the London-based Skytrax Institute.

Top-class product on the ground
At the launch ceremony for the first plane in the new A350 fleet, Lufthansa’s CEO Carsten Spohr named Munich as «Europe’s best airport» and described the decision as an «accolade for our first-class working relationship». Andreas von Puttkamer was delighted with these compliments as they demonstrate that his team and the colleagues from the Terminal 2 company are able to offer the key customer exactly what it is looking for. «Like all major airlines, Lufthansa increasingly defines itself through what it offers on the ground. For passengers, this has a lot to do with the airport: With the quality of their time in the terminal, what is on offer, the aesthetics and, of course, the processes and routes around the airport.»

Keeping routes as short as possible
This brings the Aviation boss to an important point: Nowadays, most long-haul traffic runs through hub airports like Munich, Amsterdam, London, and Dubai. However, many passengers find the transit process to be a burden. Every passenger knows what it is like to have to follow long routes round large international airports, which have grown over the decades and expanded gradually. As a relatively young airport, Munich has a location advantage, particularly because its planners set out to create short routes right from the outset. This is especially true in Terminal 1: «For many departures here, there is no more than 100 meters separating the drop-off zone and departure gate,» says Stefan Fornasier.

Stefan Fornasier and Katrin Hennig are planning far into the future.

Expansion for Terminal 1
Working together with the architect Katrin Hennig, the 52-year-old engineer is in charge of the project group working on the expansion of the older terminal. The pair are standing on the platform above public departure area B. Mr Fornasier points down to where a handful of passengers are waiting in front of security. The situation here is not always this relaxed. «It is often so crowded down there that we exceed our capacity limits on a regular basis. On busy days, such as the Friday or Saturday before the Easter vacation, the queues can get especially long.» The same applies to baggage claim. When 550 passengers from the Emirates flight from Dubai are all waiting for their luggage, it can get crowded around the belt. «We cannot expect passengers and our customers in Terminal 1 to put up with this anymore,» says Mr Fornasier.

Central entrance for all non-Schengen flights
Mr Fornasier and Ms Hennig have passed the identity checkpoint and are now moving against the normal flow of passengers, past the stationary luggage belts and through passport control, where two federal police officers are waiting for the next wave of arrivals. They then climb up to the dividing bridge, where you can look out over the apron. «The new terminal building is being built out there,» says Ms Hennig. The pair are now directly above arrival hall B. This evening, passengers will be arriving here from London, Manchester, and Dublin, but over the next few years it is due to be completely gutted and redesigned from scratch. After that, the public area up to the current edge of the building will move forwards to the apron and become the central entrance to the new departure area for non-Schengen flights (flights to all countries that are not part of the agreement that allows passengers to travel without ID).

New building on the apron
The new central departure building will be built on the current apron, followed by a long pier with a total of twelve gates for medium-sized aircraft or, alternatively, six A380s. Following the redesign, the entire northern section of the current Terminal 1, including the new pier, will be reserved for non-Schengen flights while the whole southern section, i.e. areas C and D, will be used for Schengen flights. The project group led by Ms Hennig and Mr Fornasier have already been working on this area for almost two years with the help of all departments involved in the project. The toughest challenge faced by the 25 or so experts was deciding where to place the security checkpoints because they also had to leave enough space for more stringent regulations or technical developments over the medium term.

It was therefore clear from the outset that the security zone would have to be centralized in future. «Admittedly, this now means that we are not completely able to stick to our principle of keeping routes as short as possible,» says Ms Hennig, describing a major dilemma in aviation: The more people who travel, the bigger the aircraft, the stricter the security requirements and the more space you need for checks. The decentralized concept in place at the moment is no longer feasible. «So, the exceptionally short routes that planners had in mind for Munich back in the 1970s are now no longer possible.» This applies to Terminal 2 and the new satellite building as well as the expansion to Terminal 1.

«However, we spent a long time thinking how to make things as pleasant for passengers as possible,» says Mr Fornasier. The dilemma was solved by splitting up the levels. «In principle, the route will therefore stay the same for passengers; all they have to do is change levels twice.» In future, escalators and elevators will take passengers up one level from the current departure level to the new security zone. From there, they will enter the new extension after passport control and then go back downstairs into the shopping and departure area. Passengers arriving at the airport will collect their bags in the new large luggage collection area on apron level. They will then go one level up through customs, back into the public area, where it is just a few minutes to the parking lots or train station.

Improved public transport links
Dirk Düsenberg has spent almost 20 years fighting to improve Munich Airport’s links to the public transport network. The transport planner experienced the collapse of the Transrapid project in 2008 and knows just how long planning processes can take for transport infrastructure. However, he has some good news. The Neufahrner Kurve route is due to start operations at the end of 2018, allowing for the first ever direct rail links between the airport and eastern Bavaria. Furthermore, the airport began preparations for the Erdinger Ringschluss project in November 2017. The current railway tunnel, which ends roughly at the height of the satellite building at the moment, is due to be extended 1.8 kilometers to the east before the line climbs back up to surface level. For the time being, the plan is to continue the line to the next station.

The planning approval process for the second section of the ring – the Erding section – is due to start this year. «The aim of the project is to allow passengers from the east to reach the airport by rail as well. This will greatly improve connections at Munich Airport over the next ten years,» says Mr Düsenberg.

On the east side of the airport campus, building measures for the Erdinger Ringschluss project have already begun.

Much more room for shopping and catering options
We are back in Terminal 1, where a number of passenger improvements are set to take place with the new extension. Project Manager Katrin Hennig points down from the dividing bridge to departure area B. There is currently only a single restaurant for the 16 gates. For the new departure area, on the other hand, there will be a large, modern market area for restaurants and shopping, as well as space for two premium airline lounges. «This project will be a major upgrade for Terminal 1,» says Ms Hennig, «and our passengers and airlines are expecting this, too.»

For the architects, it is not easy to implement all of these requirements. Their ultimate goal is to change as little of the current terminal building’s look as possible, while still developing a clear design and material concept with the new extension. The two project managers don’t want to create a copy of the Terminal 2 satellite building; instead, they want to create something unique for Terminal 1. Planning the construction work itself is almost equally as challenging, if not more so. Mr Fornasier looks out towards the apron. For a period of several years, aircraft will be unable to access the entire northern section of the terminal as this is where the building site is being prepared – heavily protected from airport operations and with its own access point for construction vehicles. «Planning this project is like open heart surgery,» says the project manager. «However, we will be keeping disruptions to airport operations at a minimum.» Work is due to start in early 2019 with completion planned by 2022.

Katrin Hennig has slightly mixed feelings when she thinks so far ahead. «Do we know which countries will be part of the Schengen system in 2022? Will Schengen even exist by then?» There is also the possibility of brand new alliances in the low-cost market, which would quickly put paid to all of the concrete plans. «For this reason, we have to build quickly while still staying as flexible as possible. This is a pretty big challenge for our project,» says Mr Fornasier. However, he would not be at the airport if this was not exactly what motivates him: a continuous flow of new situations to confront. The same goes for his boss, Andreas von Puttkamer. The Senior Vice President of the Business Division Aviation remembers the 9/11 attacks and the 2008 financial crisis, as well as the huge slump in the aviation industry that followed. This led to a number of consolidations on the market, the rise of low-cost carriers, new lines starting in Munich, and others being removed, as well as last year's insolvency proceedings at Air Berlin and Niki. «But that is one of the things I love most about my job. Every day is different; we have the chance to move something every day.»

Our airport has finally made it into the circle of major European hub airports.

Five megatrends for the aviation industry
This may not change much over the next few years as the aviation market is set to keep moving. «I see five main megatrends,» says Mr von Puttkamer. «Traffic levels are increasing; safety requirements are rising; the market in Europe will continue to consolidate; digitalization will bring both challenges and opportunities; climate protection will also place demands on aviation.» What does this all mean for an airport like Munich? Since the A380 landed, one plane after another has traveled down the southern runway behind Andreas von Puttkamer’s desk. They have all been a lot smaller than the huge beast from Dubai. The Senior Vice President pulls a plastic wallet full of graphs off the shelf behind his desk. The figures reveal how much the airport needs to catch up. While inter-continental traffic currently makes up around 25 percent of flights in Frankfurt, this figure was just 16 percent in Munich before Lufthansa decided to station its new planes there.

Long-haul routes on the up
Nevertheless, all of this is set to change. Further airlines are planning new connections into and out of Munich. For instance, Etihad Airways is considering adding a third daily flight to Abu Dhabi. Andreas von Puttkamer also predicts significant potential for a range of other connections, such as to South America and Africa. Chinese airlines are also keen to increase their frequency of flights to Munich, but they are currently limited due to a lack of air traffic rights. When it comes to flying himself, however, Mr von Puttkamer is happy that he is no longer such a frequent flyer. In the past, he would board around five to ten inter-continental flights a year, though this has now dropped to around three. Andreas von Puttkamer can also enjoy all the pleasure of long-haul flying from his office in Terminal 1, where he can watch the southern runway and the Bavarian mountains beyond all bathed in the golden evening sun.