The events of the last few years have taught us that life can be unpredictable. Frankfurt Airport operator Fraport expects 2023 will remain challenging, but will work with air freight stakeholders to ensure 2023 is still a successful year, says Dr. Pierre Dominique Prümm, member of the Fraport executive board and executive director for Aviation and Infrastructure
A key feature of aviation in the past year 2022 was the rapid rise in passenger numbers. This increase in travellers has been good news for us at Frankfurt Airport and for the entire industry, but it has also given us major challenges. The rapid growth in traffic went hand-in-hand with ongoing high rates of staff illness and an above-average number of flight delays – one cause of which were airspace closures resulting from the war in Ukraine.
Particularly at our airport, at which both passenger and cargo traffic are equally important, these challenges were also keenly felt in ground handling. Last summer, the loading and unloading of cargo aircraft was often possible only with long wait times. The situation was not satisfactory for anyone, least of all for us. The cargo business is crucial for us at Frankfurt Airport. Even if the cargo community last year once again proved its strategic importance – given the many essential items that were shipped via FRA – external factors led to cargo volumes slipping some 13% in 2022, to around 2 million tonnes. While we were able to almost maintain the pre-crisis levels in the first quarter of 2022, the downward trend accelerated as the year went on, driven by lower demand and capacity constraints resulting from the Ukraine war. In the summer months, the operational challenges noted above were an additional dampening factor.
This trend impacted many airports, not just Frankfurt. The figures were also seen in economic indicators, such as purchasing managers’ indices (PMIs). These once again fell significantly over the course of 2022 due to coronavirus-related restrictions, particularly in China, and the effects of rising inflation. These framework conditions will continue to have an impact on the cargo industry and its operations in 2023, as will the general economic downturn. This outlook is supported by various early economic indicators.
Staff deployment predictability
As far as passenger numbers are concerned, we are expecting further growth in 2023. On the one hand, this will boost belly capacity. Nevertheless, 2023 will remain challenging for the cargo sector and aviation in general. This is because on top of continued staff shortages at many service providers, the ongoing lack of skilled labour will further exacerbate the situation. For this reason, it is even more important to create predictable staff deployment schedules to ensure efficient processes. To achieve this, we, as the airport’s operator, are pushing ahead with the digital transformation. New technologies will provide us with opportunities for a standardised transfer of data.
A specific example of this is our commitment to ‘Digital Test Field Air Cargo’, a sector-wide and multi-location research project backed by the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport. We’re using the project to lay the foundations for the automation and autonomisation of aviation handling and transport processes. By doing so, we are seeking to play a leading role in the development of digital air cargo standards. For example, the use of driverless transport systems such as cargo and baggage tugs can boost predictability, reduce the number of staff tied up in the job, and improve resource management. We are providing support for relevant trial operations at Frankfurt Airport.
We are also continuing the successful development of Frankfurt Airport’s CargoCities, including their infrastructure. At the start of the year, we filed an application to build one of the biggest cargo warehouses in CargoCity South. We’re planning to lay the foundation stone for this modern hall, which is being built for DHL Global Forwarding in accordance with the latest standards, in the second half of 2023. The building’s design is also intended to meet challenging environmental criteria. Fraport has set itself ambitious climate protection goals, with the aim of being carbon-free by 2045.
Even if the events of the last few years have taught us that life can be unpredictable, we are approaching 2023 with optimism. It will remain challenging for us, but together we will do our best to ensure that 2023 is still a successful year.