Munich Airport is busy putting the finishing touches to its sparkling new second terminal, a development that is expected to cement the airport's position as one of Europe's most important hubs. Richard Rowe looks at final preparations on the ground.
With the clock ticking down to the June 29 opening date, workers continue to clamber over every inch of Munich Airport's new Terminal 2 (T2). There is still much to be done, but even now with its exposed wires and half-finished ducting, it is clear just what an impressive facility this great glass atrium of a building will become. With cutting edge design from local architectural practice Koch + Partners, the Euro 1.5 billion ($1.79 billion) T2 is a powerful symbol of Munich's growing importance as a world city. It is also a measure of how far the airport has come in a relatively short time. The original terminal is just 10 years old and the fact that there is now sufficient demand to warrant a second - and one that doubles capacity at the airport to 50 million passengers a year - speaks volumes.
Today, Munich is the second largest airport in Germany and the eighth largest in Europe in terms of passengers handled - nearly 23 million in 2002. As well as a symbol of prosperity, T2 also represents a mould-breaking collaborative project that both Munich Airport and German national carrier Deutsche Lufthansa hope will drive their mutual good fortune for years to come. It is the first time that an airport and airline have come together, certainly in Europe, to jointly design, build and eventually manage such a facility.
The T2 project is run by a management holding company - Terminal 2 Betriebsgesellschaft GmbH - held and financed 60 percent by Munich Airport and 40 percent by Lufthansa. True to the spirit of cooperation, the holding company has two managing directors, one from each organisation.
"This is a major strategic move, not least because it allows genuine long-term planning," explains Philipp Ahrens, Assisting Manager to the Vice President (Operations) at the airport. "The main aim of the project is to further strengthen Lufthansa's ambitions to enlarge hub operations at Munich."
He continues, "Having used Munich and Frankfurt in a dual hub system [since summer 2001] the investment by Lufthansa is a very good sign for us."
It should be a win-win situation for both parties. The airport has locked in an airline partner that, despite its recent financial woes - Lufthansa recently posted first quarter operating losses of Euro 415 million - remains a hugely powerful ally. Lufthansa, in the meantime, has gained not only a dedicated terminal, but also the ability to shape the future direction of one of Europe's most rapidly developing airports.
The new terminal is tailor-made for the exclusive use of Lufthansa and its partners inside and outside of the Star Alliance and when the new facility opens on the morning of June 29, some 60 percent of the airport's traffic will make the switch from the existing terminal.
It is a huge undertaking. Lufthansa will be joined by fellow Star members Air Canada, Austrian Airlines, SAS, Spanair, Thai International and United Airlines. Other non-Star, but codeshare carriers, making the move include Air Dolomiti, Augsburg Airways, Croatia Airlines, Eurowings, LOT Polish and Luxair.
All will be joined in T2 later this year by US Airways, which recently announced plans to join the Star Alliance.
Of course, all this movement frees up significant space at the still youthful T1. And while the industry may be depressed, airport managers hope that when the recovery comes, new carriers will have an opportunity to enter the market. Existing airlines already serving Munich will also be able to add frequencies that would not have been possible in the old one-terminal environment.
T2's importance as a key transfer facility cannot be overstated: in 2002, some 42 percent of all passengers travelling to Munich on Lufthansa and other Star carriers transferred to other destinations.
"This share of transfer traffic is likely to rise
even further," suggests Ahrens.
The airport has certainly posted itself an ambitious target in terms of connection times: the minimum connecting time (MCT) at Terminal 2 has been set at 30 minutes, five minutes swifter than at T1. "This is unsurpassed worldwide and will fit even more the needs of a quick transfer hub," claims Ahrens.
Of course, hitting a 30-minute MCT requires significant investment in technology and systems and the need for close control was a major factor in the construction of T2's very own Hub Coordination Center (HCC). The facility will operate from 4.00 am to 11.00 pm (either side of the airport's night curfew) and be manned by representatives from both the airport and Lufthansa.
On the airline side, the HCC roster will include operational, maintenance, flight planning and ramp service dispatch representatives. Similarly, Munich Airport will have its own aircraft positioning, ground handling dispatch, baggage sorting dispatch and short connection dispatch personnel on hand within the facility.
"This is so we can all react to flight or position changes at short notice to make sure that people are able to catch their transfer flights," explains Ahrens.
Of equal importance is T2's sophisticated new baggage handling system, designed and built by Germany's Siemens Dematics. The system covers some 50,000 square metres on two levels. Once up and running, almost 19,000 electric motors will drive 40 kilometres of conveyor belts, all controlled and monitored by two master computers.
Meanwhile, in a half-kilometre tunnel already built to connect T2 with an additional midfield satellite, baggage will hurtle along at seven metres per second.
Importantly, the Euro 139 million new baggage handling system has been built to comply with EU security regulations and will not need to be retrofitted at a later date. Almost 30 security units - from traditional X-ray screeners to highly sophisticated CAT scanners - are integrated 'inline' to provide three levels of security checks.
With technology so crucial to the smooth opening and future success of the terminal, it is no surprise that system testing has been rigorous both inside the building and out on the ramp.
By the time T2 opens, more than 3,500 test passengers will have put the facility's systems and ground handling processes through their paces. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, for a total of 42 days, test passengers have checked in for virtual flights and gradually proceeded through security screening to board aircraft at one of the terminal's 31 nose-in departure gates.
To date, more than 17,000 bookings have been performed for almost 350 simulated take-offs. Test operations have already involved more than 150 aircraft ranging from tiny Avro RJ85s right up to fully laden Boeing 747s
In the meantime, the new terminal's 40 check-in counters and 27 automated check-in stations have handled some 35,000 items of baggage. Ground service employees - mainly from Lufthansa and the airport's own handling department - have fed an additional 56,000 items of baggage into the new baggage transport facility.
Nothing is being left to chance and, at the time of writing, test operations had entered their final phase. In mid-May, and with a supporting cast of 400 extras, the passenger handling facilities underwent their first real 'crowd' test.
This involved a variety of trial operations from simple check-in at manned desks or automated stations to complex transfer procedures. Test passengers changed aircraft and gate using every conceivable scenario, sometimes within the Schengen and non-Schengen traffic segments - the two are separated - as well as crossing over between each area.
Meanwhile, boarding procedures were tested for aircraft docked at the terminal and also those parked at remote positions. Tests also involved simulated passenger arrivals and the full journey through immigration and baggage claim to customs clearance.
The key, say officials, has been to move the testing phase gradually from single functional areas to interlinking test runs and complex process chains that include the more realistic, and highly complex, operations that will become the norm when the terminal opens.
Test runs were scheduled for completion on June 4 after which the commissioning team has four weeks to fine-tune the terminal before the grand opening.
The move to T2 for Lufthansa and its Star partners should provide each carrier with the kind of passenger handling and ramp service improvements expected of such an expensively assembled new transfer facility.
From a handling point of view, Lufthansa will continue to provide its own passenger handling and conduct its own ramp operations. The airport's handling department - still the dominant force at Munich following ground handling liberalisation - remains the airline's preferred supplier for all other ground handling services.
With its specific emphasis on transfer traffic, T2 will certainly shape the airport company's approach to ground handling, but will not see a split operation between the two terminals. As Ahrens points out, the airport will operate a pooling operation whereby staff and equipment operate across both terminals.
But the opening of T2 will not see the airport's handling division forget its duties at the existing facility, says Ahrens: "T1 will certainly not vanish from our operational thinking. We will still have many customers there."
Meanwhile, Aviapartner, the second handler at the airport, will provide baggage loading/unloading services to just two carriers at the new facility: Adria Airways and Spanair. Both are Lufthansa codeshare partners and important network customers for Aviapartner elsewhere in Europe.
Knowing well that, for now at least, T2 holds limited opportunity for business development, Aviapartner's main focus remains T1. The hope is that the airport's concentration on the new terminal will allow Aviapartner to make further inroads with the carriers 'left behind' at T1.
With so much space available once the transfer of flights has taken place, Aviapartner is keen to make the most of improved conditions at T1. "It will be a much better environment in which to serve our customers," says Christian Stoschek, General Manager Handling Division, Aviapartner Germany.
And with so much of the airport's emphasis now placed on T2, and a great deal of the retail business also switching terminals, there are mutterings among some of the carriers remaining at T1 about being forgotten. It is no surprise then that such airlines top Stoschek's list of possible targets.
"I think the move makes those remaining T1 airlines not currently with Aviapartner more aware of the [competitive] situation and might look for us to step in," he contends. "We see a huge opportunity to become the preferred supplier at T1."
After four years in the Munich market, Aviapartner's ability to become that preferred supplier received a boost recently when the company secured a seven-year concession, starting June 29, that extends its baggage transport offer at the airport.
Previously, Aviapartner was faced with the somewhat farcical situation of being able to offload baggage from aircraft, but then having to hand it over to the airport company for transport to the baggage belt.
The new concession allows Aviapartner to provide all such transport services as well as baggage handling in the sort area. "We can now manage the whole baggage transportation process and bring more of our own quality to bear," says Stoschek.
While Aviapartner is busy recruiting the additional staff and sourcing the extra equipment required for this wider remit, it is not alone in beefing up its presence at the airport. As Aherns points out, the airport's handling department has also increased staff numbers to meet the challenge of additional traffic in the future.
Aherns admits, however, that, "with the current crisis in the industry it remains to be seen how quickly the airlines will recover."
To date, Munich has been hit by the downturn, but not as badly as some. The summer timetable points to a sharp increase in traffic and, based on slot bookings to date, the airport claims to account for 40 percent of all new arrivals and departures scheduled for the summer season in Germany.
Having suffered a slight fall in passenger traffic in 2002, Munich returned to more positive ways during the first quarter of 2003: nearly 5.5 million people passed through the airport, up 11 percent on the same period in 2002.
But, clearly, the opening of the terminal does not coincide with a particularly happy time in aviation and for T2's principle user, in particular. Following the losses announced for the first quarter of 2003, Lufthansa no longer anticipates a positive operating result for the year as a whole.
Even so, the German national carrier appears confident that its deep pockets will see it through these difficult times and looks forward to the opening of what has the potential to become a showcase new terminal for the airline, its partners and the airport that they all serve.