We are now halfway through the current business year – and Cologne Bonn Airport is taking stock for the first time in these highly unusual circumstances. The airport had quite different plans for 2020. The financial basis of the company was to be strengthened with the help of a company-wide programme to improve results which had already been launched in 2019. At the beginning of the year, there was evidence of significant success in this area – but then coronavirus struck.
“2020 should have been a good year for the airport,” says Johan Vanneste, CEO Flughafen Köln/Bonn GmbH. “Instead we have been faced with passenger transport being brought to almost a complete standstill, abandoned terminals, deserted car parks and empty display boards.”
During this worldwide crisis, the like of which has never been seen before, freight business proved to be the airport’s life insurance – carrying on at full capacity. This can also be seen in the statistics: according to EUROCONTROL, Cologne/Bonn was one of Europe’s top 10 airports during the coronavirus crisis in terms of the number of flights handled.
Life is now slowly coming back to the terminals. “After almost four months of this exceptional situation, we are now looking ahead to the near future with cautious optimism,” says Vanneste. “People will once again be able to fly to a wide range of sunshine destinations from Cologne/Bonn this summer and a good number of business routes will also be operating.”
2019 business year difficult, but 2020 started well
2019 had already been a difficult year for the airport. The withdrawal of the Eurowings long-haul routes and the departure of Condor and Norwegian led to a fall in passenger numbers. By the end of the year 12.4 million passengers (-5%) had used the airport. Figures were on the decline in the freight business too – 815,000 tonnes of goods were handled in Cologne/Bonn during the course of the year. One of the reasons for the downturn was a difficult economic situation worldwide.
2020 got off to a good start in business terms; the figures for both freight volume and passenger numbers were good. Cost savings and an increase in turnover resulted in the airport being in a better position than forecast in January and February.
And then came COVID-19…
Sadly, these positive developments came to an abrupt halt – at the end of February the coronavirus crisis hit the airport with full force. Although more and more comprehensive measures were introduced in an effort to minimise the risk of infection for both passengers and employees, passenger operations came to almost a complete standstill from mid-March onwards. During April and May, which were the most seriously affected by the coronavirus crisis, only 11,000 passengers travelled via Cologne/Bonn. During the same period in the previous year, this figure was 2.1 million. However, while passenger operations were pretty much at a standstill, the relevance of the airport’s second mainstay became evident – freight business in Cologne/Bonn ran at full capacity right through the crisis.
9,700 cargo flights, carrying around 240,000 tonnes, have been handled at the airport since the beginning of the crisis. At times the number of flights per week was more than 15% up on the figures for last year. These flights were operated by 26 airlines, including quite a few who don’t normally fly to the airport. For example, Cargolux and Emirates both included Cologne/Bonn in their flight schedules at times. A large part of the cargo carried during this period constituted medical goods, personal protective equipment, and fresh food. “In the past few weeks, our airport has demonstrated that it is hugely important as an indispensable European hub and as a direct supplier for the region,” says Vanneste.
Cautious optimism looking ahead
With the relaxation of travel restrictions on 15 June, many airlines are now starting to gradually reintroduce more and more routes into their flight schedules. They are now offering their first sunshine destinations – Spain, Croatia, Bulgaria, Portugal and Greece – as well as domestic flights to Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. The restart will initially be restrained – currently there are only around 250 take-offs and landings a week, but, according to a cautious prognosis, operations are set to be ramped up significantly by the time the summer holidays start at the beginning of July. During the school holidays, it should be possible to operate up to 150 flights per day.
Hotel to be completed in 2021
Despite COVID-19, Cologne/Bonn is working on the future – the construction works for the new Moxy Hotel right next to the terminal are making good progress. The shell construction is almost complete; the next phase of the programme will involve the façade and interior fittings. The hotel should be up and running by the second quarter of 2021.