Frankfurt Airport announces closure of major terminal after pandemic lull

With the long-awaited third terminal due to open in the coming years, Frankfurt Airport is planning a major renovation of Terminal 2 that will see it closed to passengers from 2026.

Frankfurt Airport
Aircraft dock at the gates of Frankfurt Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The news comes on the back of a difficult few years for the airport. During the Covid pandemic, when travel was severely restricted, passenger numbers dropped from an all-time high of 70 million in 2019 to just 18 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2021.

The rapid decline in footfall meant that the opening of Fraport’s newly built terminal – Terminal 3 – was initially postponed until the middle of 2026. 

With the airport set to cater to an additional 19 million passengers per year through the new terminal, the airport’s management announced that it would be closing Terminal 2 for refurbishment once Terminal 3 had opened.

“It makes no sense to operate three terminals at the same time demand and passenger numbers are rising,” Fraport’s chief financial officer Matthias Zieschang said during an announcement on quarterly revenues last week. 

READ ALSO: Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

According to information obtained by DPA, the terminal is set to receive a complete overhaul of its current technology, including fire safety mechanisms, smoke extraction, air conditioning, building automation and technical control centres. In addition, facilities such as toilets and offices will be renovated. 

The terminal building will be completely closed off to passengers for at least two to three years while the work is completed, though the underground car park, Sky Line runway and baggage system will remain in operation.  

Terminal 2 has a capacity of around 15 million passengers per year and is home to numerous international airlines that fly from Frankfurt, including Air France, China Airlines, KLM, Emirates and American Airlines.

With the closure of the terminal in 2026, airlines currently based in the terminal will have to relocate to Terminal 3 in the south of the airport. 

The planned closure of the terminal fuelled speculation that it would be used solely as a reserve after the third terminal had opened. 

However, Fraport dismissed media reports that the closure would be permanent. The airport expects passenger numbers to recover to the record pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019, when more than 70 million travellers passed through its doors. 

With these numbers in mind, the airport plans to reintegrate the second terminal back into the network once the modernisations are complete. 

However, environmental organisations cast doubt on projections that passenger numbers would recover to pre-pandemic levels. 

Speaking to DPA on Wednesday, climate organisation BUND Hessen said there was no need to have three terminals in operation at Frankfurt Airport.

“The closure of Terminal 2 when Terminal 3 opened proves that the expansion capacity was completely overestimated at the expense of the Bannwald forest. In the wake of climate change, faith in growth is no longer appropriate for aviation,” deputy director Thomas Norgall explained. “It is likely that Terminal 2 will never open again.”

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UPDATE: When will Germany’s €49 ticket start?

Germany announced a €49 monthly ticket for local and regional public transport earlier this month, but the hoped-for launch date of January 2023 looks increasingly unlikely.

UPDATE: When will Germany's €49 ticket start?

Following the popularity of the €9 train ticket over the summer, the German federal and state governments finally agreed on a successor offer at the beginning of November.

The travel card – dubbed the “Deutschlandticket” – will cost €49 and enable people to travel on regional trains, trams and buses up and down the country.

There had been hopes that the discount travel offer would start up in January 2023, but that now seems very unlikely.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

Martin Burkert, Head of the German Rail and Transport Union (EVG) now expects the €49 ticket to be introduced in the spring.

“From our point of view, it seems realistic to introduce the Deutschlandticket on April 1st, because some implementation issues are still unresolved”, Burkert told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland on Monday. The Association of German Transport Companies, on the other hand, said on Wednesday that they believe the beginning of May will be a more realistic start date.

The federal and state transport ministers have set their sights on an April deadline, but this depends on whether funding and technical issues can be sorted out by then. In short, the only thing that seems clear regarding the start date is that it will be launched at some point in 2023. 

Why the delay?

Financing for the ticket continues to cause disagreements between the federal and state governments and, from the point of view of the transport companies, financing issues are also still open.

The federal government has agreed to stump up €1.5 billion for the new ticket, which the states will match out of their own budgets. That brings the total funding for the offer up to €3 billion. 

But according to Bremen’s transport minister Maike Schaefer, the actual cost of the ticket is likely to be closer to €4.7 billion – especially during the initial implementation phase – leaving a €1.7 billion hole in finances.

Transport companies are concerned that it will fall to them to take the financial hit if the government doesn’t provide enough funding. They say this will be impossible for them to shoulder. 

Burkert from EVG is calling on the federal government to provide more than the €1.5 billion originally earmarked for the ticket if necessary.

“Six months after the launch of the Deutschlandticket at the latest, the federal government must evaluate the costs incurred to date with the states and, if necessary, provide additional funding,” he said. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn has warned that the network is not prepared to cope with extra demand. 

Berthold Huber, the member of the Deutsche Bahn Board of Management responsible for infrastructure, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that a big part of the problem is the network is “structurally outdated” and its “susceptibility to faults is increasing.” 

Accordingly, Huber said that there is currently “no room for additional trains in regional traffic around the major hub stations” and, while adding more seats on trains could be a short terms solution, “here, too, you run up against limits,” Huber said.

So, what now? 

Well, it seems that the federal states are happy to pay half of whatever the ticket actually costs – but so far, the federal government has been slow to make the same offer.

With the two crucial ministries – the Finance Ministry and the Transport Ministry – headed up by politicians from the liberal FDP, environment groups are accusing the party of blocking the ticket by proxy. 

According to Jürgen Resch, the director of German Environment Aid, Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Transport Minister Volker Wissing are deliberately withholding the necessary financial support for the states.

Wissing has also come under fire from the opposition CDU/CSU parties after failing to turn up to a transport committee meeting on Wednesday. 

The conservatives had narrowly failed in a motion to summon the minister to the meeting and demand a report on the progress of the €49 ticket.

“The members of the Bundestag have many unanswered questions and time is pressing,” said CDU transport politician Thomas Bareiß, adding that the ticket had falling victim to a “false start”.