Following Bavaria's state elections on 14 October 2018, the legally binding plans to build a third runway at Munich Airport incurred significant delays. The state authorities recently agreed that the project will be suspended for five years.

Rising demand

Demand for aviation services in Munich – and internationally – continues to rise. In 2016 Munich Airport set a new passenger record (42.3 million) and the number of aircraft movements (ie, take-offs and landings) increased by approximately 4% (394,430 in total) compared with 2015. Airline filings suggest that this trend is expected to continue in the coming years.

The construction of a third runway at Munich Airport is therefore considered a major milestone for supporting the city and the state of Bavaria, both now and in the future. According to the airport's operator, Flughafen Munchen GmbH (FMG), the airport must expand significantly in order to maintain and expand:

  • its position in the international aviation industry; and
  • its economic and geographic importance for Bavaria, such that it can meet customers' requirements.

Legally speaking, the proposed 4,000m third runway at Munich Airport has successfully passed the planning and approval stages. Its construction was expected to be completed by 2025, subject to rapid and smooth planning and construction proceedings. However, the Bavarian government – a major shareholder in FMG – has not yet given its final approval.

Opposition

Following Bavaria's recent state elections, the ruling conservative party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), lost its absolute parliamentary majority and thus could have remained in power only as part of a coalition.

The conservatives formed a coalition with an independent group, Free Voters (FW), which initially comprised independent local politicians – FW subsequently became the third largest party in the Bavarian Parliament.

Despite its conservative contingent, FW is strongly opposed to Minister President of Bavaria Markus Soeder's project to expand Munich Airport. The government now agrees that the project will be completely suspended for five years (ie, until the next election) and FMG cannot, therefore, purchase any land to construct the runway. Hence, the future of the third runway remains uncertain; however, its completion is not entirely unrealistic.

FMG has strengthened its argument that the airport is already operating at full capacity during peak times and therefore urgently needs additional capacity to maintain its hub status and improve connectivity.

Regional environmental groups were disappointed that the project was not abandoned entirely.

Germany's major airline and Munich Airport's main user, Lufthansa, declared through its CEO Carsten Spohr that it could withstand medium-term delays to the project since the peak in passenger numbers is likely to be reached within the next 10 years. The airline has been growing its long-haul network in Munich at the expense of Frankfurt (its main hub). Among other aircraft, Lufthansa has moved five Airbus A380s to its Munich base.

Regarding the current debate on flight delays and cancellations in Europe, Lufthansa has argued that airport capacity should be contained to reduce burden and mitigate other operational bottlenecks.

Comment

The decision to suspend the expansion of one of Germany's main airports for at least five years, despite the legally binding planning approval, will cause a decade of additional obstacles and operational bottlenecks.

The Lufthansa Group cancelled a significant number of flights in 2018 because of flight disruptions, most of which had been caused by air traffic control issues. There is little hope that things will improve in the region's aviation sector anytime soon.

The new Bavarian government's decision is a further example of how Germany's aviation industry will face additional, severe obstacles and challenges over the coming years; the fact that the new Berlin International Airport will not be operational before 2020 does nothing to ease the situation. Despite the unstoppable rise and realistic projections of airline passenger numbers, Germany's aviation industry is burdened with a difficult political environment.

For further information on this topic please contact Oliver Nissen at Arnecke Sibeth Dabelsteintelephone (+49 30 814 59 13 00) or email (onissen@arneckesibeth.com). The Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein website can be accessed at www.asd-law.com.

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