A new Lufthansa link to Frankfurt is connecting Liverpool to a global route network but despite the massive boost to the economy Liverpool City Council continues to turn away from its airport. Tony McDonough reports
A new Lufthansa service linking Liverpool with Frankfurt has taken off from Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LJLA) offering connectivity with multiple global destinations.
Its first flight was on Monday but senior figures from Lufthansa and LJLA, as well as Liverpool city region business leaders, will gather at the airport on Wednesday morning to watch the flight to Frankfurt take off at 8.45am.
There will be two return flights every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. It will offer onward routes to 150 global destinations via the German hub. It is also a huge boost to Liverpool city region’s ability to attract both tourists and inward investment.
Liverpool is already connected to several European hub airports via easyJet, Ryanair and Wizz Air. However, they do not have agreements that allow passengers to check in just once while changing planes to and from other global destinations. Such arrangements make travelling to and from Liverpool from all over the world much easier.
This will be the first time in its 66-year history in the UK that Lufthansa will take off at Liverpool with its Airbus A320 (168 seats) or its Bombardier CRJ900 (90 seats). Passengers will reach Frankfurt, Europe’s financial centre in the middle of Germany. in just one hour and 40 minutes.
Liverpool’s last full hub link, which saw Dutch carrier KLM offer up to three daily flights to and from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport ended in March 2012. It had been launched with a fanfare in 2009 but fell victim to the fallout from the financial crisis that gripped the world a decade ago.
“Lufthansa will be the first global network airline in Liverpool with easy reach to destinations on four continents,” said Heinrich Lange, senior director sales northern Europe Lufthansa Group Airlines when the route was first announced in December.
“As a premium carrier we will be the only airline at John Lennon Airport to offer seats in Business Class and all the amenities of a full service approach.”
Lufthansa is a member of the Star Alliance, the world’s biggest airline alliance. It has 26 full member airlines and 40 affiliates which between them offer routes to 1,294 airports in 195 countries across the world. Codesharing agreements between members mean passengers get access to a much wider route network.
Connection to a hub link has always been top of the wish list for LJLA. It was estimated that around 48% of passengers who flew from Liverpool to Schiphol via KLM travelled on to other destinations, suggesting a significant demand for a hub link.
Global connectivity is critical to Liverpool city region’s future prosperity and yet, astonishingly, Liverpool City Council continues to turn its back on the airport. The authority is a shareholder in LJLA and, in April, was asked along with other shareholders to support two projects – a new solar farm and the upgrade of a fuel facility.
It declined to contribute to the schemes meaning its stake will now be diluted. In 2015, the council took a 20% share in the airport in a £2m investment. It sold a half of that for £19m in 2018, representing a tidy profit. Now its remaining 10% stake will be cut to just 5.6%.
Following its decision, Cllr Harry Doyle, cabinet member for culture and visitor economy, said the council wanted to dispose of its stake in the airport entirely. And, in a somewhat contradictory statement, he added: “This isn’t an indication of a lack of support for the airport.
“I want to make very, very clear we’ve got a hugely popular airport in the city which is well used by residents and businesses across the globe and we value the impact it has on our local economy.
“The airport can manage without our direct investment. We do obviously value the airport but at this stage it just does not fit in with our objectives as a city.”
Does Cllr Doyle not consider global connectivity to be one of the city’s objectives? Green councillor Anna Key has gone further, saying: “You cannot move to a net-zero economy by 2030 and expand the airport – that cannot happen.” And Labour councillor Lena Simic also said: “Let’s be clear, nobody wants airport expansion.”
It is not clear on whose behalf Cllr Simic was speaking but her sentiment seems to be shared across an increasing number of councillors in the city, if not by the hundreds of thousands of people who use the airport every year.
In a statement to LBN in January Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson acknowledged that LJLA “supports a huge amount of investment and jobs in our city and its success is vital to our economic health”.
But referring to a strategy to expand the airport, she added: “Since that strategy was written, the council has also declared a climate emergency and the UK has hosted COP26 setting out our commitments to a net zero carbon city and country.
“Clearly a balance needs to be achieved where economic growth is sustainable for the planet and any airport development in this country would need to be both financially and environmentally sound.”
Overall, aviation accounts for around 2% of global carbon emissions. Holding back Liverpool Airport’s expansion is unlikely to make any difference to this. Airlines will simply take their planes elsewhere and it will put the city as a further disadvantage when seeking inward investment.
The sector is also fully committed to slashing its carbon emissions. Liverpool’s two biggest carriers – Ryanair and easyJet are looking to make big strides in this area. While Ryanair is investing heavily in more fuel-efficient aircraft, easyJet has pledged its first all-electric passenger plane will be in service by 2030.
This means if Liverpool were to turn its back on the airport it could also miss out on the high-skilled green economy jobs so prized by Mayor Anderson and Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram. It is unclear whether either will attend the event at the airport on Wednesday.
As Liverpool Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Paul Cherpeau, said in January: “The creation of any perceived ‘anti-airport’ sentiment and dialogue by city region leaders, politicians and partners should be avoided.”