Routes Revisited: Seeking Daylight

Buoyed by strong tour and cargo traffic, Hannover Airport is hopeful about its near-term future.

Credit: Hannover Airport

In July 2021, Routes Europe 2019 host Hannover Airport (HAJ) began to see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel in the form of sunshine from tourist hot spots.

All-inclusive tours to European vacation destinations are a big component of Hannover’s business, and by the middle of 2021 Germans were ready to go on holidays again.

“Especially in Germany, one segment has picked up quite well: leisure traffic and all-inclusive tours,” Roger Niermann, the director of aviation sales at HAJ, told Routes in an interview. He noted that at times in the second half of last year, all-inclusive tour traffic at the northern German airport was on par with 2019 levels.

“You’ll see, looking at total 2021 [passenger traffic] figures, that the first half of the year was very weak, and starting from July with the holiday season we had very strong demand to typical holiday destinations and we’re seeing that this year as well,” Niermann said. He expects all-inclusive holiday traffic to match 2019 levels for the full year 2022, even as the overall passenger traffic level is not expected to reach 2022 levels until 2024 or 2025.

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HAJ handled 2.1 million passengers in 2021, less than a third of the 6.3 million passengers it handled in 2019.

“If you look at all the German airports, then we are in position number three in terms of the [pace of the] recovery,” Nierman said. “Of course, the pandemic is still there, and [its impact was] strong through much of 2021,” he said. “Nevertheless, the pre-bookings this year have improved very much and we hope to recover sooner or later. … There are some segments developing better and some that need a little bit more time,” such as business traffic.

One area where HAJ is thriving is air cargo—annual freight traffic doubled from 2019 to 2021. FedEx has a strong presence at the airport, operating flights from HAJ to Liege (LGG) in Norway, where the global on-time delivery giant has a major European sorting center inherited from TNT.

“Cargo is really booming,” Nierman said. “We saw so much volume coming into the market during the pandemic. It has disappeared a little bit again” because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But he sees high cargo demand stretching well into the future. “The internet commerce market is booming and this is an area where we see big growth,” Nierman explained.

The airport’s cargo business benefits greatly from the fact that HAJ has no operational time restrictions and is open for business 24/7. “The 24-hour operation is very important because it allows [even passenger] airlines to utilize their fleet better than at other airports” where there are nighttime limits aimed at aircraft noise mitigation.

The capital city of Lower Saxony is currently served by 34 airlines, six fewer than in 2019. “We are really confident we’ll reach 40 this year,” Nierman said, adding that the next step will be encouraging airlines to add frequencies.

“When you don’t have the frequencies, you don’t have the passengers,” he said. “We depend on our wide catchment area from our location in the center of northern Germany. People in the wider area have other travel options. With more density of flights to a destination, you immediately see the passenger volumes there.”

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