Leere creates need. And it is empty at Germany’s airports in March of last year. According to the German air traffic control, Easter Sunday 2020 was even a historically empty day. The air traffic controllers had to accompany only 756 flights on their way in the sky over Germany that day. In better times, Düsseldorf Airport alone has this number of take-offs and landings. The busiest day of the year was February 21, probably never before has this record been in winter. But in 2020 the pandemic took effect in Germany shortly afterwards.
With the passengers, the airports lost revenue from handling fees, parking tickets and travelers shopping in airport shops. In 2020, only 63 million passengers passed through German terminals, a quarter of the previous year’s figure. A significant part of the costs remained because airports are subject to an operating obligation. Keeping it open was also desired for necessary flights, freight connections and, in the worst case, emergency landings.
The operation at Fastleere was not worthwhile. With the approval of the state finance ministers on Thursday, the airports are now getting closer to receiving a grant of one billion after a long struggle to cover the costs of the uneconomical keeping open. The airport association ADV does not want to give the all-clear, especially since it is not clear when the first amounts will actually flow.
“Preventing irreparable structural breaks”
“Now the ball is in the field of the federal government. The airports trust that the promised help will be provided as quickly as possible, “says ADV CEO Ralph Beisel of the FAZ.” Time is of the essence. It is necessary now to provide the airports with the promised and urgently needed funds in the form of non-repayable grants. This is the only way to prevent irreparable structural breaks, ”he said. A quarter of the 180,000 jobs at airport locations are threatened. The airport in Paderborn is already in insolvency proceedings under self-administration.
In principle, the aid had already been agreed at a crisis summit with Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) at the beginning of November, but it has not yet flowed. As a compromise, it was important in Berlin that the federal and state governments share the payments of one billion euros. The federal states are shareholders in many airports, the federal government is only shareholders in Berlin, Munich and Cologne.
Wrestling since November
The transport ministers of the federal states agreed to the cost sharing at the beginning of December. However, there was no place for the state finance ministers responsible for the disbursements. 14 out of 16 now voted for the package. “The political blockade over the airport rescue package, which is now endangering the existence of airports, seems to have been overcome,” says Beisel. He appeals to the federal government to quickly release half of the aid.
Nevertheless, the situation of the airports remains precarious, according to the ADV figures, the billion-euro package will by no means compensate for the losses incurred on all runways. The airport association estimates the loss of income so far at 3.6 billion euros. Every day a further 10 million euros would be added because in the second wave of the pandemic, air traffic fell back to barely more than 10 percent of the pre-crisis level. For 2020 and 2021 this results in a combined loss of 3 billion euros for all local airports.
While the airports are pushing for more speed for aid, there is also harsh criticism of the country’s vote. The environmental protection organization BUND fears a waste of tax money. Under no circumstances should grants go to airports that received subsidies before the corona crisis. Numerous regional airports have not made any profits for years. From the time before the pandemic, the EU requirement that airports will no longer receive state subsidies for their operating costs from 2024 onwards.