Check-in counter at Hamburg Airport
Photo: Markus Scholz / picture alliance / dpa
Aviation is in a difficult position in Germany - and not just around the federal elections.
It is a synonym for environmental pollution like hardly any other branch in the economy.
Again and again, especially short flight routes are criticized, which travelers should better cover by train.
New data shows that fewer and fewer people are using short-haul flights. The airport association ADV has analyzed where passengers really want to fly and what role domestic German flights play. The investigation will end in 2019 because the coronavirus pandemic then brought air traffic to a near complete standstill. The industry has seen a slight recovery since this summer, but it is still a long way from the passenger numbers of the pre-Corona period.
Accordingly, short journeys played a subordinate and diminishing role for passengers in recent years.
Between 2011 and 2019, 81.4 percent of passengers flew abroad from German airports.
In total, around six million passengers were added each year during the observation period - despite the air traffic tax introduced in 2011.
The number of flights, however, remained more or less constant.
So the growth was apparently achieved through the use of larger aircraft.
175,000 domestic German air travelers stayed on the ground every year
The segment of domestic German flights, on the other hand, has become smaller. Between 2011 and 2019, the number of passengers flying within the country fell by 5.7 percent - from 24.6 to 23.2 million. Every year, an average of 175,000 air travelers use alternative travel options on the ground. According to the ADV study, the number of flights has fallen even more - it was reduced by 15.7 percent. The lobby association also identifies a significantly smaller network as the reason for this. In 2011 there were 22 more routes within Germany than in 2019. One reason for this is the end of Air Berlin.
But the decoupling of demand and flight movements is likely to be just as important.
More passengers don't necessarily mean more flights.
Rather, airlines are relying on larger aircraft, and seat occupancy has also increased on many routes.
This summer, Lufthansa deployed a long-haul jumbo Boeing 747-8 to Mallorca due to the high demand.
The train as an alternative?
The aviation industry has also accepted that short distances should be covered better by rail.
ADV managing director Ralph Beisel says: “The demand from travelers is concentrated on destinations over 400 kilometers.
Our turnstiles are the gates to the big world.
And over short distances, we rely on close networking with the railways «.
France is often mentioned as a model for the greater shift from airplanes to rail, where the government decided in the spring to ban certain domestic flights - including routes that can be covered by train in 2 hours 30 minutes. But if one were to apply criteria comparable to those in France in Germany, such a ban would only affect the route between Düsseldorf and Stuttgart.
In addition to the quality of the rail connection, the French regulation also includes the factor of how many passengers have booked an onward flight. If the majority of passengers on a route are transferring passengers, the flight in France can continue to be offered. If you take the short flight route between Nuremberg and Munich, the proportion of passengers who want to continue flying is 97 percent, according to Lufthansa. On the Stuttgart-Frankfurt route, it is 96 percent and even on flights from Hanover to Frankfurt, 88 percent of passengers want to change.
Above all, there is a fear in the industry that a ban on short-haul flights could weaken the German hubs.
Because if you want to fly into the distance from Hamburg, you don't necessarily have to change trains in Frankfurt or Munich.
Instead, Turkish Airlines, for example, offers flights all over the world via its hub in Istanbul.
During the observation period, Turkish Airlines' flight offer from German airports to Istanbul grew by 56.6 percent.
Air France-KLM is also vying for German customers and has increased its feeder flights to Amsterdam.
If passengers - instead of flying - first had to take the train to Munich or Frankfurt airports because there were no more flights, this could mean a problem for Germany as an aviation location, the industry argues.
Mallorca leads in European destinations
While domestic German flights are decreasing, the number of travelers on medium-long routes between 400 and 1,500 kilometers rose significantly by 23.3 percent. European flights are the largest segment at German airports. With 9.8 million passengers in 2019, Mallorca is the top destination up to 1500 kilometers, followed by London, Vienna, Zurich and Amsterdam.
Rail could also play a role as a flight replacement on some European routes, albeit a smaller one.
According to the ADV study, passengers would increasingly switch to rail connections whenever there were attractive connections between metropolises.
But that is seldom the case.
Take London, for example: At 502 kilometers as the crow flies, Düsseldorf is actually not far away.
It takes 1:35 hours by plane to fly to London.
Those who decide to take the train are on the road for more than six hours and have to change trains twice.
The train from many cities to Vienna or Zurich is also less competitive.
The train journey from Hamburg to Zurich takes seven and a half hours;
to Vienna as much as eight hours and forty-two minutes.
If anything, only the night train could score points here.
Long-haul routes grow by 26.5 percent
There is no alternative to the airplane for intercontinental connections.
Here, too, the number of passengers grew by 26.5 percent between 2011 and 2019.
First place is occupied by a tourist destination, Hurghada in Egypt, followed by Dubai and Tel Aviv.
Singapore ranks fourth among the top intercontinental destinations, followed by New York.
What the ADV study cannot answer: Whether and if so in what form air traffic will change in the long term due to the corona crisis.
Hardly anyone in the industry believes that things will just go on like they did before.
Companies have learned that some business trips can also be replaced by a video conference.
And even vacationers could stay in their own country for the time being instead of flying around the world.