Later today, at Munich's airport (Franz Joseph Strauss Flughafen, FJS), a celebration for its 20th anniversary of opening is set to begin. Sources tell The Munich Eye (TME) that the price tag will be about one million EURO, which would have made the old leader of Bavaria for which the airport is named quite impressed and pleased. It is only for employees, and promises great food, drink and entertainment. It is an attempt to give back a bit to the employees for their hard work and contributions to the success of the airport.
And what an incredible run it has been. From a mid-major city with an airport that could only be described as backwater, the new airport has helped Munich obtain its lofty status of being consistently one of the top 10 cities in the world to live in. The growth of the airport (and Munich) over the last two decades is staggering. The number of passengers from 1995 to 2006 doubled, to over 30 million. It now stands at almost 38 million. It has been voted best airport in Europe 5 out of the last 7 years, and according to one rating agency it is number four in the world. These are lofty numbers indeed. While Munich has fought doggedly to remain best-known as a village of 1.3 million, the Munich airport has done everything in its power to be a major hub and a world class airport that many larger cities would be honored to call their own. Not even the failure of the former CSU leader Dr. Edmund Stoiber's pet project of a trans-rapid train connecting the airport to Munich's central station, has dampened the growth of the airport. Train connections could be better, true. Still, the security is tight but inconspicuous; the shopping and dining choices run the gamut from high end to budget, and the whole property is easily navigated. The area between the terminals features a beer garden (with a delicious, cheap libation on offer) and occasionally, sporting events like beach volleyball The local high-class Kepinski Hotel hosts the German Soccer League's weekly round-up on Sundays during the season. There are even two supermarkets with resonable prices so returning travelers to their homes in Munich can buy groceries. But the airport has a problem, and depending how a referendum goes on the 17th of June, a potentially insurmountable one. Munich's airport has run out of space.
Munich's two runways are completely booked, the airport can handle exactly a total of 90 departures and/or landings per hour, and many airlines are asking for more timeslots (especially from the Middle East) to land or depart. Many of the airlines that are inquiring want the best 'primetime' slots which fall in the 9 am to 6 pm period, and these carriers have some of the larger numbers of passengers which therefore generate more income for the airport. But the airport is running at capacity. The airport authorities would desperately like to build a third runway as well as a third terminal, complete with a driverless train that would shuttle passengers from the main terminals to this satellite terminal. The price for this expansion is estimated to be about 1.5 billion EURO, which would probably cost more in the end. An earlier possible referendum for the people who would be most affected directly, those in the flight paths and/or deal with the added road traffic, would have resoundingly voted against the expansion. Not to be deterred, local politicians decided that the people in Munich, not only German citizens but legal residents, would be those who should be included in the decision, and greatly bolstering their chances of it passing. That referendum takes place on June 17th.
The vote could very well be a close one. It may seem on the surface that a third runway, with its clear financial benefits for the city and area would outweigh any drawbacks. But this is not the case. Many citizens of Munich believe that the city is already too crowded, has become too uncomfortable because of this and that a third runway is not needed. Others believe that the problems created, whether its lower air-quality, noise or lights' pollution or the creation of yet more, lower paying service industry jobs is simply not worth the hassle. They maintain that the ideal of a village, which Munich has used as a marketing ploy for years, could be irrevocably damaged by the influx of an even greater numbers of visitors.
On the other hand, local businesses are only too happy for associates who must travel to and from Munich to see the airport first thing when they arrive and last thing when they depart. In their minds, it is really that good of an airport. Also, many argue that having fewer direct flights from Munich to exotic locales actually increases pressure on the environment as many flights originating in Munich must go through other hubs, thus increasing take-offs and landings which is when most exhaust is created by today's jets.
But beyond these arguments and rhetoric, the crux of the problem remains, the battle for the third runway is really a fight about conservatism and progression. Many people who have lived here for years, or even generations cannot seem to wrap their heads around the fact that later today a twenty year anniversary for Franz Joseph Strauss Flughafen will take place. To them it seems like so long ago. Their village is rapidly becoming a center of technology, industry, learning and art not only in Germany, but in Europe and the world. To continue this growth, responsible growth, a world-class airport is needed, complete with a third runway. And it should be built before it is too late.