Flughafen Friedrichshafen GmbH – Flight to the Future
Friedrichshafen is an area rich with history for the aviation industry. Bodensee Airport, a small international airport and the southernmost airport in Germany, is the second oldest airport in the country, situated on the banks of Lake Constance. This is where the first Zeppelins were designed, created and launched. It is also the home to the headquarters of one of the biggest automotive suppliers in the world.
Bodensee Airport’s history goes back to the earliest days of aviation, but it is also a model of the industry’s future.
“We have got a lot of history here and it is home to lots of companies linked with aviation. The region is one of five aviation clusters in Germany. The industry is well known here in aviation history,” says Claus-Dieter Wehr, CEO of Flughafen Friedrichshafen GmbH. “We have always been a small airport, but prior to the Covid-19 pandemic we had a good traffic pattern, which is necessary for the many globally acting companies in this region.”
While Flughafen Friedrichshafen is not the biggest airport, its agility and efficiency mean it can punch above its weight.
“Being small means being quick! Our passengers don’t have to queue for a long time during the processes of check-in and security control,” Wehr points out. “We have short waits, a train station directly in front of the terminal building, access to public transportation and we are easily reachable by car. As a small airport, we have flights to Frankfurt several times a day, giving us access to a worldwide hub. Before the pandemic we had a daily connection to Istanbul, giving us connections to two hubs.”
Of course, the pandemic has had a significant impact here as it has across the aviation industry, but recovery is ongoing.
“Turkish airlines have not been back since the start of the Covid crisis, but we’re in good contact with them and they have an organisation here locally. They are linked to the region and are active directly here. Lufthansa resumed operation to their Frankfurt hub already last year and secures overseas connections with one transfer by several flights per day,” Wehr says. “There are different traffic patterns, with touristic flights going out to all the warm water destinations. We have a special traffic scheme in winter, especially for the UK. We are an entry point for ski tourists going to the outback region in Austria, mainly the Arlberg region. Not only do we serve the German part of our region but also Austria, Liechtenstein and the eastern part of Switzerland.”
Taking Off Again
Flughafen Friedrichshafen’s first challenge post-pandemic is to recover the traffic levels it lost due to Covid-19.
“This is very important for the future of the airport and the region,” Wehr insists. “We are in daily contact with our clients, the airlines, and tour operators. We’re being trustworthy and transparent with our clients, rebuilding our connections with Lufthansa to Frankfurt. We’re using our contacts in the travel management of the corporations to identify their needs when they occur, and then linking them via the airport to our airlines and tour operators.”
Flughafen Friedrichshafen uses its direct contact with travel offices in the region to promote its traffic offering, this year hoping to be successful in stabilising at two daily flights to Frankfurt.
“Before Covid, we were at four flights a day. So, we’re looking to increase that hopefully to three in the summer period,” Wehr says. “We want to regain the whole touristic pattern we had prior to the pandemic, with daily flights to Palma de Mallorca in the summer season, and four weekly flights to Heraklion and Rhodes each. Just to mention some examples of leisure destinations. We’re gaining new destinations- it’s now all dependent on the bookings!”
As well as ensuring the footfall the airport needs, Wehr is also looking at the airport’s performance overall.
“We must secure our financial performance, operations-wise. Before the pandemic, we had black figures in our operational results, so this is very important to the region,” he says.
But as Wehr points out, this is about more than ensuring a healthy balance sheet. The airport needs room to invest to prepare for the next major challenge affecting the aviation sector.
“If you’re burning money in the operational side of the business it means you lack money for all other necessary activities in the future, such as the measures we’d like to implement with regard to climate change,” Wehr explains.
Flughafen Friedrichshafen has already taken steps to address this challenge, but it is only the beginning.
“Before the pandemic we had implemented changes to our apron illumination, switching to LED bulbs. We as well exchanged all the illumination on the runways and taxiways to LED, saving a lot of energy,” Wehr recounts. “Right now, we are changing areas in the airport where the lighting systems see the most use, such as security control, to LEDs. We have started to invest in electric-driven tractors for baggage transportation. Right now, we have five of them in operation, but we are increasing the number to eight.”
The airport is focusing on implementing measures to make its vehicles more environmentally friendly while also looking into installing a solar panel system at its parking lots, although that’s still in the planning and assessment phase.
“We’re targeting the energy consumption of our buildings,” Wehr tells us. “Our target is to be climate neutral by 2045.”
The Course Ahead
While Wehr clearly has great plans, he also acknowledges that we are in unpredictable times right now.
“From my point of view, the future depends on how demand develops. We’re good at creating the necessary offering, the question is how these offers are used here in the region,” he says. “It’s difficult to judge how people will act or react in discussions on climate change, and how negative for the climate the aviation business is. What we see is demand is there, and people are willing to travel because they could not travel during the pandemic. The question is how this will stabilise in 2023, 2024, and 2025.”
Flughafen Friedrichshafen is doing what it can in terms of climate activities, but as an airport, it can only perform part of what needs to be an industry-wide effort.
“We can’t influence what aircraft are used, for instance. Customers should accept the industry is working on improving the climate footprint, but this will not be a quick win, just because of the technical challenges the industry is facing,” Wehr tells us. “We can’t force airlines to invest in electrical aircraft, but we’re following what’s going on in terms of technical innovations, and we’re in contact with the air taxi innovators like Lilium and Volocopter and innovative ideas coming up to offer climate neutral flights.”
Whatever the future for Flughafen Friedrichshafen looks like Wehr knows there is one thing he can depend on.
“The most important aspect of the company is its people. Without a good staff it’s impossible to provide good services to clients and passengers,” he tells us. “We’re a small team here at the airport, which is astonishing from my point of view. We have been through difficult times the last two years, but we still have all hands on deck. We were going through already challenging times before the pandemic, so I personally think this crisis has shown how stable we are, and the level of challenges we can handle.”