Germany plans to ease regulations limiting night flights at the country’s airports.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's recently formed center-right coalition agreed to limit powers allowing Germany's 16 federal states to ban or restrict night flights at their local airports.
The move comes after Lufthansa Cargo, Germany's biggest air cargo carrier, warned it might cease freighter operations if courts outlaw night flights at its Frankfurt airport hub. Others at the Frankfurt airport have expressed fears that night flight limits will force German freight forwarders and shippers to transfer traffic to nearby rivals Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol.
A court ruled in August that the state of Hesse must revisit its decision to limit Frankfurt to 17 flights between 11p.m. and 5a.m. The court rejected pleas by Lufthansa, which had originally called for a minimum of 41 flights between those hours.
The new government policy is controversial because Germany has a powerful environmentalist lobby that has long targeted airports and delayed expansion plans at important hubs, including Frankfurt, Europe's biggest air cargo center.
But the government plans to press ahead with legislation forcing courts to balance the commercial concerns with noise and environmental considerations when they rule on night flight limits.
The German airport federation, ADV, is confident the government will respond to its call for "demand-driven night operations" at selected airports. "We think that the coalition will take steps to change the regulations," said ADV spokesperson Heike van Hoorn. "There has to be more balance between the economic and environmental impact."
Hoorn said she expects the state of Hesse will reduce the number of night flights at Frankfurt below seventeen, which will lead to another court action by Lufthansa Cargo.
Lufthansa Cargo says it cannot run a successful freighter operation with restricted night flights, and there are no viable alternative German airports. Lufthansa transports about half of its cargo on freighters. The rest is carried in the bellies of passenger jets.
Approximately 40 percent of Germany's exports are transported by air, according to the ADV.
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