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Cablegate: Frankfurt Airport Expansion and Night Flights Update

VZCZCXRO9356
OO RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHLZ
DE RUEHFT #0463/01 0461138
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 151138Z FEB 08
FM AMCONSUL FRANKFURT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4667
RULSDMK/DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMCSUU/FAA NATIONAL HQ WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 2910

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FRANKFURT 000463

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/AGS
PASS TO EB

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR ECON EIND ENRG PGOV SENV EU GM
SUBJECT: Frankfurt Airport Expansion and Night Flights Update

REF: 07 BERLIN 2224, 07 STATE 146665

1. SUMMARY: Numerous municipalities and several air carriers filed
legal challenges to the Frankfurt airport expansion plan before the
February 8 deadline, creating a legal tangle for a Hesse state court
to sort out. The main sticking point in the plan to build an
additional runway and terminal remains the proposed exceptions to
the night flight ban, which the municipalities oppose because of the
noise and the airlines see as essential for their business. The
court will most likely have fifteen months to decide between the
competing claims, with construction possibly beginning sometime in
2011. END SUMMARY.

Challenged from All Sides
-------------------------
2. When the Frankfurt airport enlargement plan was published
December 18, 2007, the Hesse state government gave all sides until
February 8, 2008 to submit legal challenges. Frankfurt, Wiesbaden,
Darmstadt, Mainz, Hanau, Offenbach and several smaller
municipalities all filed lawsuits against the plan. Most objected
to the seventeen proposed exceptions to the ban on night flights
between 11:00 P.M. and 5:00 A.M. and the resulting increase in late
evening noise. Several neighboring towns also expressed concern
that the expansion of the airport will affect their own plans for
growth. In the case of Frankfurt, CDU Lord Mayor Petra Roth was
forced to go along with the challenge after her party and its
coalition partner, the Greens, abstained in a city council vote per
their original coalition agreement. Individual appeals, including
class-action suits by affected groups, have a separate deadline of
February 25.

3. Cargo and passenger carriers Lufthansa, Condor, TUIfly and
Deutsche Post also filed lawsuits against the plan, claiming that
the seventeen exceptions allowed are insufficient. [Note: Cargo and
postal flights would have priority over passenger flights between 11
P.M. and 5 A.M., with passenger flights being banned outright
between 1 A.M. and 4 A.M. End Note.] Condor and TUIfly, who are
low-cost carriers, argue that their business is dependent on cheaper
night flights and have said that 2,000 jobs are at stake should the
plan go through as proposed. Companies who have their hubs in
Frankfurt, such as Lufthansa, will have first claim to the seventeen
flights, but Lufthansa says that it will need forty-one flights just
for itself and may have to move its cargo operations if the plan
goes through unchanged.

What Comes Next?
----------------
4. Dr. Holger Sewering, head of project planning at the Hesse State
Chancellery, told Econ Off and Econ Spec February 12 that he expects
construction to begin in 2011, giving the Hesse Administrative Court
twelve to fifteen months to consider all legal challenges. He was
optimistic that the seventeen night flight exceptions would survive
the appeals, since the government took great care to ensure that the
plan would withstand challenge when drafting it. He said it was
not clear whether the court would have to consider all individually
or could rule on all of them at once. The ruling could also be
appealed to the Federal Administrative Court, a move which Dr.
Sewering felt was unlikely to succeed. He saw no chance of the
federal government intervening in favor of the project on the basis
of "national interest" despite past rumors to that effect.

5. Fraport AG, the managing company of the airport, could legally
begin construction immediately, running the risk that it would have
to stop if the lawsuits succeeded. Fraport officials had originally
hoped that the new runway and terminal would be operational sometime
in 2011. Dr. Sewering said, however, that Fraport had agreed to
wait for the court's ruling. He anticipated that it might start
some preparatory work on existing airport territory and would begin
implementing the full project once the plan is upheld, even if an
appeal were filed at the federal level.

6. According to Dr. Sewering, the fact that the future government
of Hesse remains unclear following the January 27 state elections
has had little impact on the airport expansion plan. Although
Social Democratic candidate Andrea Ypsilanti promised to look into
the plan were she to become Minister President, she would have no
legal way to withdraw it. Current Minister President Roland Koch
had promised in the past that no night flights would be allowed, but
later backtracked after the Federal Administrative Court ruled that
some exceptions had to be made for freight flights in the case of
the Leipzig airport. Dr. Sewering expected that the capacity of the
expanded airport would be sufficient until at least 2025.
Coincidentally, over the past week the Cologne-Bonn airport extended
authorization for night flights to remain operational through the
year 2030, although this may also end up being challenged in the
courts.

FRANKFURT 00000463 002 OF 002

7. COMMENT: Although there is room for optimism that the appeals
process will be concluded with all deliberate speed, the outcome
still hangs in the balance. The previous expansion plan was
completed in the early 1980's only after decades of argument and
numerous protests, some of them violent. Both the business
community and the outgoing state government see the airport as an
essential contributor to Frankfurt's status as a business hub. If
the enlargement gets bogged down in legal challenges, air carriers
may take the path of least resistance and shift their operations to
other hubs. Indeed, last year FedEx decided to move their
operations to the Cologne-Bonn airport beginning in 2010.

8. This cable was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.
POWELL

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