Air Transport World

HST: threat or alternative. (high-speed trains)

London-The Lufthansa airport-express train "flies" down the picturesque Rhine Valley between Frankfurt and Dusseldorf, peaking at a speed of 125 mph, its passengers served airline-style meals by cabin attendants.

Lufthansa began the service in 1982 and extended it from Frankfurt to Stuttgart this year. The German flag carrier had no particular wish to go into the rail business but was forced to do so by chronic ATC and airport congestion, which was playing havoc with punctuality on its short-haul, domestic routes, while at the same time bleeding its finances-Lufthansa Chairman Heinz Ruhnau says that the delays cost his airline $50 million a year.

As a result, Ruhnau has strong views on the way in which rail might help the airlines of Europe out of their jam in the future. "In 10 years' time," he says, "no German airport will be without a railway station beneath the terminal.

"By the end of this decade, airports will not require feeder services by aircraft-all will be operated by rail. New runways are not the only answer. The railways are an answer to the airport-capacity problem. Munich 2 Airport might be the last new one built in Europe, unless another Berlin airport is developed," Ruhnau said.

Significantly, Lufthansa and German Federal Railways signed a cooperation agreement in June, 1989 to discuss ways in which the two organizations could work together.

Not surprisingly, not all of those who make their living flying feeder services in Europe are in tune with Ruhnau's ideas. Xavier Leclercq, president of European Regional Airlines Association (ERA) and president of the French regional Brit Air, dismissed them as "a generalization" that could not be borne out due to a lack of railway infrastructure and plans. "The train," Leclercq said, "is a competitor. It does not exclude us."

And ERA Director General Mike Ambrose is equally skeptical. Governments in Europe, he pointed out, have been determined to recover the full cost of airport and navigation charges over the past 15 years, regarding aviation as an industry that should "wash its face. I have no quarrel with that. It is perfectly proper for aviation not to be subsidized. However, some European governments ignore these principles when it comes to surface transport," Ambrose told ATW. …

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