After a lengthy spell of uncertainty, Hahn airport’s future looks secure with China-based Hainan Airport Group (HNA), the parent of Hainan Airlines, acquiring a majority stake in the airport, suggesting new links to Asian markets. The new owner signed the contract to take over 82.5% of the airport for an estimated €15 million (US$15.95 million) on March 1. According to a spokesperson for Hahn, the deal is expected to close on May 17.
Hahn, which markets itself as an uncongested and cheaper alternative to Frankfurt International Airport (it is located 126 km from Frankfurt), has been struggling over the years. Last year the state government of Rhineland-Palatinate decided to divest itself of its holding in the airport and put up its 82.5% position for tender. The remaining 17.5% is owned by the state government of neighbouring Hesse, where Frankfurt is located.
The effort to sell the airport failed. HNA Group had been widely regarded as the front runner, but it was outbid by Shanghai Yiqian Trading Company. However, that deal fell through after it came to light that the Chinese conglomerate had failed to obtain clearance from the authorities back home, so Hahn went back on the block for a second round.
For HNA, which controls 13 airports in its home market, including Anqing Tianshuan and Haikou Meilan International, Hahn is the first airport outside China in its portfolio. HNA is building up a diversified presence in the international aviation market: it also owns 96.1% of Gategroup, an airline catering and logistics services firm in Switzerland, and 80% of Swiss maintenance company SR Technics. Management signaled plans last year to acquire stakes in TAP Portugal and in Virgin Australia.
At this point, it is unclear what the new owners are planning to do to revive Hahn’s fortunes. According to one report, a new company called Hahn Airport Group has been set up as the formal new owner, but there has been no word about its staffing and planned scope of activities. The report also mentioned that HNA has indicated that it intends to bring in at least three weekly freighter flights.
Most likely this would be through Yangtze River Express, the all-cargo subsidiary of HNA, which served Hahn in the past but shifted its flights to Munich in 2015 to operate a Chicago-Munich-Tianjin-Shanghai route with Boeing 747 freighter aircraft.
Hahn, which is used by Wizz Air and Ryanair, two European low-cost passenger carriers, currently hosts several all-cargo operators. Silk Way leads the pack, followed by Nippon Cargo Airlines. Last September, a new 747 freighter operation took off from Hahn, courtesy of forwarder Senator International, which is leasing a 747-400F from Air Atlanta Icelandic for a weekly run across the Atlantic, chiefly to carry automotive traffic to and from the US.
Another addition to the ranks of freighter operators was RAF-Avia, which stationed one AN-26 and one Saab 340 cargo aircraft at Hahn last year for charter activities.
“Cargo activities are going very well. We had a good start in 2017,” the airport spokesperson reported.
Last year, 72,576 tons passed through Hahn. This was down 9% from the previous year and reflects the departure of Yangtze River Express the year before. The airport’s throughput this past January was up 54% over the same period in 2016.
Hahn’s management has emphasized that the airport is open 24 hours – unlike Frankfurt, which has a curfew that limits freighter operations.
“Our sales team, which has been restructured in the summer of 2016, is working constantly on putting up HHN onto a growth course again,” the spokesperson said. “For the second half of 2016, this strategy has already shown some effects and we expect good growth rates for 2017. We have more flights on a regular basis, and also the charter business is seeing growth again. Looking at the charter business, our strategy to advertise our abilities to handle special cargo 24/7 pays off.”
But Hahn isn’t high on the list of everybody. For forwarder Quick Cargo Service, Hahn plays only a minor role. ACS managing director Stephan Haltmayer remarked that it is difficult for a combination carrier to use Hahn as a cargo airport while funneling its passengers through Frankfurt.
“Hahn only makes sense for charter carriers or freighter airlines. We go where the cargo is, so we have little to do with Hahn,” he said.
By Ian Putzger
Correspondent | Toronto