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Facing the Future in Frankfurt

July 1, 2021.

Like everywhere else, Germany's airports have been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the situation easing, Kevan James reports on Frankfurt (FRA) and how it is looking forward to the return of air travel.

Terminal 3

Terminal 3 continues to rise on the southern side of the airport, using the site of the former Rhein-Main U.S. military base. The new terminal, conceived as the centre piece of a long-term strategic expansion project, is an essential ingredient for ensuring the future of FRA despite unforeseen events like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taking shape - Terminal 3

As other crises have shown in the past however, the aviation sector is quite robust and responds quickly to resurgent demand. The modular design of Terminal 3 makes it possible to be flexible with the build schedule and opening, depending on the actual need for extra capacity.

By the time it is finished it will be able to handle up to 25 million passengers a year. The first construction phase comprises the main terminal building with arrival and departure levels, a marketplace, lounges and an automated baggage conveyor system plus Piers H and J for an initial passenger volume of 14 million. The airport is not expecting passenger traffic to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2025 and based on this forecast, there are currently no plans to open Terminal 3 (including Pier G) any earlier than 2026. It would then be possible to start operations with an initial three piers up to a capacity of 19 million passengers per year.

Aesthetics and Sustainability

Above - the new terminal's frontage

Below - the check-in hall

The architecture of the new terminal is undeniably ultra-modern. Glass sidewalls flood the generously dimensioned halls and areas with daylight, allowing the planners to largely dispense with artificial light sources. Pipes and cables are integrated into the architecture without disrupting the open spaces or detracting from their aesthetics. The new terminal is also setting standards on the sustainability front, with only minimal heating required thanks to energy-efficient construction techniques and state-of-the-art technology.

The marketplace

The spacious marketplace in the middle of the terminal extends over some 6,000 square metres and will contain a diverse selection of retail outlets, restaurants and cafés where passengers can shop or simply pass the time. The lounge zone with a view of the apron gives passengers direct access to the many shops and restaurants and space to relax and unwind.

The new terminal will also have numerous activity spaces and services. Children, for example, can fill the time waiting for their flight in one of the play areas. Business travellers can spend some productive time undisturbed in the work & connect areas before they catch their flight or connecting flight.

A new transport system for arrivals

The new terminal is optimally connected and can be reached quickly and conveniently by passengers. Similar to the existing system, Fraport is building a new Sky Line to connect Terminal 3 with the two existing terminals. The journey from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3, with a short stop at Terminal 2, takes just under eight minutes. In addition to the new Sky Line, Terminal 3 will also be easily accessible by taxi, coach or car. Drivers can use one of the 8,500 parking spaces in the parking garage right next to the terminal.

Rising Traffic Figures

Above - signage reflects the needs of the times

Below - Terminal 2

Despite the ongoing and widespread impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, aviation traffic is beginning to recover: in May 2021 FRA saw 1.25 million passengers pass through the airport, representing a 356.9 percent year-on-year increase over May 2020. Now, as travel bans are being lifted and COVID-19 incidence rates fall, European vacation destinations in particular have seen demand climb compared to April this year. More than 50,000 passengers travelled through Frankfurt Airport on four separate days in May 2021 – the highest figures since the first lockdown was eased in summer 2020. Nevertheless, passenger traffic was still 80.0 per cent lower than in May 2019.

In the first five months of 2021, FRA served a total of more than 4.7 million passengers. Compared to the same period in 2020 and 2019, this represents a decrease of 59.2 percent and 82.6 percent respectively. Cargo volumes however continued to grow despite the ongoing shortage of capacity normally provided in the holds of passenger aircraft. May 2021 saw a 27.2 percent increase to 204,233 metric tons (up 10.0 percent over May 2019). With 16,977 take-offs and landings, aircraft movements climbed 118.7 percent compared to May 2020.

FRA continues to see substantial cargo movements

Terminal 2

Terminal 2 had been closed to traffic since March 2020, due to the decrease in flights caused by the pandemic. The airport has used the time to carry out extensive upgrades, repairs, and modernisation projects in the Terminal 2 complex, which opened in 1994. The spacious terminal hall now also shines in a new light, thanks to installation of 3,136 new glass panes in the five skylights of the terminal roof.

A brighter look for Terminal 2

T2 re-opened its doors on Tuesday, June 1, with parking facilities, the Sky Line and bus transfer connections to Terminal 1 also be providing regular service once again. Comprehensive health measures have been implemented to thoroughly prepare the terminal, including a total of 3,000 floor markings, 480 see-through partitions installed at the check-in counters, blocking off every other seat in the waiting areas, and installing 30 disinfectant dispensers.

Coinciding with the terminal’s reopening, some restaurants and other services are also once again serving passengers and visitors. As at Terminal 1, retail and food outlets are subject to the current legal requirements, focusing initially on meeting traveller's basic needs. Food and beverages are available on a takeaway basis for the time being but may be consumed everywhere in the terminal. As is commonplace elsewhere however, when removing their facemasks for eating or drinking, passengers and visitors are asked to keep a sufficient distance from others.

Above and below - Terminal 2 in May 2020

The Visitors’ Terrace at Terminal 2 remains closed now but the airport is getting ready to reopen this popular viewing platform on August 2nd, along with airport tours and the Fraport Visitor Centre. There will be some restrictions however and those planning a trip to FRA are advised to go to -

The Northwest runway

Also on June 1st, the Northwest Runway (07L/25R) at Frankfurt Airport (FRA) recommenced operating in anticipation of a rise in aircraft movements this summer. These expectations are backed by the forecasts issued by Eurocontrol, the European air traffic coordination agency. With an increase in take-offs and landings at Frankfurt in recent weeks, if numbers continue to rise, the runway will be required to ensure operations continue to run smoothly and to avoid delays. The decision to resume use of the Northwest Runway was made by Fraport in conjunction with the Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH (DFS). DFS is responsible for air traffic control in Germany.

In response to the sharp fall in traffic volumes amid the coronavirus pandemic, FRA took the Northwest Runway out of service between March 23 and July 8, 2020. The runway was closed again from December 14, 2020, and had been used as a temporary parking space for stored aircraft.

Above and below - Terminal 1, much extended and modified since it opened on March 14, 1972

Above - Terminal 1 remains the centre of Lufthansa's operations

Below - despite modernisation over the years, T1's check-in areas are still recognisable from the early days.

Commercial aviation has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe and it will take time to recover, as it will in most walks of life. It can also be said that life will have changed markedly for everybody, perhaps in many ways permanently. At Germany's primary hub however, strenuous efforts have been and are being made to return to life as we knew it before the early part of 2020.

All images courtesy of Fraport AG

Text © Kevan James / Fraport AG 2021.

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