Business Flights: Short and Sweet

Smaller airports offering short flights and sustainable mobility for business travelers could soon be the winners in the aviation sector. As could small short-haul aircraft.


STR Airport/H2Fly
The Dornier 328 short-haul aircraft. Powered by hydrogen-electric technology, it is expected to fly up to 40 passengers quickly and sustainably to their next business meetings and thereby serve primarily regional airports.STR Airport/H2Fly

It’s the year 2026 at Baden Air­park in south­ern Ger­many. Busi­ness trav­el­ers are espe­cial­ly pleased with this region­al air­port and the short dis­tances to their flights. They leave their cars at charg­ing sta­tions right out­side the ter­mi­nal. A few min­utes later—thanks to com­plete­ly dig­i­tal­ized check-in processes—they are seat­ed on a Dornier 328 pow­ered by hydro­gen fuel-cell tech­nol­o­gy. The elec­tric air­lin­er car­ries 40 pas­sen­gers and has a range of 2,500 kilo­me­ters. Small­er elec­tri­fied short-haul planes with 10, 20, or 30 seats and ranges of up to 1,500 kilo­me­ters con­nect Baden Air­park with other Ger­man and Euro­pean region­al air­ports. A vision has become real­i­ty: with small envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly planes, region­al air­ports are suc­cess­ful­ly serv­ing the niche mar­ket for busi­ness trips.

With innovative business strategies, short-haul flights can continue to offer rapid connections.

Marc Landgraf  Marc Landgraf
Partner at Porsche Consulting,
expert in the field of aviation

Short-haul flights have been round­ly crit­i­cized for some time now in light of efforts to reach cli­mate tar­gets. But the busi­ness world con­tin­ues to depend on quick con­nec­tions. Region­al air­ports, which stim­u­late their local com­mu­ni­ties but in most cases have yet to oper­ate eco­nom­i­cal­ly and are there­fore regard­ed with skep­ti­cism, could play a key role here. “With inno­v­a­tive busi­ness strate­gies, short-haul flights can con­tin­ue to offer rapid con­nec­tions,” says avi­a­tion expert Marc Land­graf from Porsche Consulting.

Baden-Airpark GmbH
Karlsruhe / Baden-Baden Airport is located in a large southern German industrial area near the French border. It is operated by a subsidiary of Stuttgart Airport.Baden-Airpark GmbH

Around two dozen of Germany’s approx­i­mate­ly 40 region­al air­ports are poten­tial hubs for new approach­es to busi­ness trav­el. Exam­ples include Ros­tock-Laage, Magde­burg-Cochst­edt, Pader­born-Lipp­stadt, Bre­men, Dort­mund, Mem­min­gen, and Karl­sruhe/Baden-Baden. Easy access, quick check-in, and con­ve­nient size are three big advan­tages of these small facil­i­ties. How­ev­er, region­al air­ports have yet to achieve com­mer­cial suc­cess. As Land­graf explains, “Their capac­i­ties are often under­uti­lized, and the high check-in and oper­at­ing costs for small air­craft make it hard to achieve rea­son­able returns.” New busi­ness mod­els are need­ed. And they’re already here: region­al air­ports can focus on busi­ness trav­el­ers who can and want to avoid the big trans­port hubs. And if the right air­craft can make fly­ing sus­tain­able, short flights can be the key to eco­nom­ic suc­cess. Mod­ern elec­tric motors and increas­ing­ly pow­er­ful bat­ter­ies are mak­ing this pos­si­ble. Accord­ing to Thorsten Ertel, an expert on Porsche Consulting’s sus­tain­abil­i­ty team, “Region­al air­ports can ide­al­ly serve many busi­ness trav­el­ers while also reduc­ing emissions.”

Business travelers save time, airports bring in more revenue, local communities enjoy higher tax proceeds, CO2 emissions are lowered.

Thorsten Ertel  Thorsten Ertel
Senior Manager at Porsche Consulting,
expert in the field of sustainability

No new air­ports have to be built for short-haul flights because enough already exist. With build­ings and infra­struc­ture already in place, there’s no need to pave over more soil. This is just one com­po­nent of more sus­tain­able aviation—which offers many addi­tion­al ben­e­fits. Ertel lists some of them: “Busi­ness trav­el­ers save time, air­ports bring in more rev­enue, local com­mu­ni­ties enjoy high­er tax pro­ceeds, CO2 emis­sions are low­ered.” Speak­ing of green­house gases, in 2019—the year before the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic broke out—Germany emit­ted more than 800 mil­lion tons. Short-haul flights of up to 1,500 kilo­me­ters account­ed for 25 per­cent of Europe’s total avi­a­tion emis­sions. Politi­cians are call­ing for a change in course. “Hybrid-elec­tric flights need to be the new stan­dard in Ger­many by 2035,” says Thomas Jar­zombek, the fed­er­al government’s coor­di­na­tor of avi­a­tion and aero­space pol­i­cy. But that’s not all. Noise lev­els, par­tic­u­lar­ly at take­off and land­ing, need to be low­ered. But this too is pos­si­ble. Elec­tri­fied pro­pel­lor air­craft are around 75 per­cent qui­eter than their elder “sib­lings” with tur­bine-pow­ered engines.

Hybrid-electric flights need to be the new standard in Germany by 2035.

Thomas Jarzombek Thomas Jarzombek
Federal government's coordinator of aviation and aerospace policy

Wal­ter Schoe­fer, Man­ag­ing Direc­tor and Man­age­ment Spokesman for Flughafen Stuttgart GmbH and an advi­so­ry board mem­ber for Baden-Air­park GmbH, is con­vinced that region­al air­ports are well-posi­tioned to make the need­ed tran­si­tion to greater sus­tain­abil­i­ty. Regard­ing his region­al air­port sit­u­at­ed between the Rhine River and the A5 free­way, he notes that “we have the space here to try out new approach­es such as solar power sys­tems and elec­tric charg­ing sta­tions.” The lat­ter have been almost entire­ly absent from avi­a­tion facil­i­ties through­out Ger­many. Nor have uni­form stan­dards for the asso­ci­at­ed charg­ing infra­struc­ture been insti­tut­ed. There are also chal­lenges regard­ing the main­te­nance of elec­tric air­craft. A com­pre­hen­sive net­work of main­te­nance sta­tions is need­ed, along with spe­cial­ly trained per­son­nel. Set­ting this up will take time and money. But the good news here is that main­te­nance for elec­tric air­craft is com­pa­ra­ble to that for elec­tric cars—it’s sim­ple and economical.

STR Airport/H2Fly
Martin Nüsseler, CTO of Deutsche Aircraft (left), and Dr. Josef Kallo, Co-CEO of H2Fly, are developing hydrogen fuel-cell technology for regional air travel. The first converted Dornier 328 is expected to begin operations in 2025.STR Airport/H2Fly

Electric aircraft on the runway

Established engine makers like Rolls-Royce are accelerating the development of electric drive systems for airplanes. Its engineers in Britain are currently developing the drivetrain for the P-Volt electric nine-seat aircraft for the Italian company Tecnam. Various smaller and younger companies also want to conquer the skies with sustainable drive concepts—especially for business travelers. Bavaria-based Deutsche Aircraft, for example, is planning to equip the legendary Dornier 328 short-haul passenger plane with an electric drive. It has signed a declaration of intent with H2Fly, a start-up and spin-off of the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The two companies will join forces in researching and developing hydrogen fuel-cell technology for regional commercial aircraft, and the first Dornier hydrogen demonstrator is expected to take off in 2025. The EU's Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has already authorized the ultra-lightweight two-seat Velis Electro from Slovenian manufacturer Pipistrel. The Israeli-American start-up Eviation is developing an electric cargo aircraft called Alice, twelve of which have already been ordered by the DHL express delivery service. The eFlyer 800 under development at Bye Aerospace in Denver is expected to have eight seats and a peak speed of 600 km/h. In Scandinavia, small airlines such as Norway's Widerøe have been serving regional airports for years now. Even Finnair, a larger national airline, should soon be flying an electric propellor plane from the Swedish start-up Heart Aerospace.

The Ger­man Avi­a­tion Asso­ci­a­tion (BDL) views the role of elec­tric air­craft pri­mar­i­ly in terms of shut­tle ser­vices to major air­ports. Region­al air­ports would then serve to chan­nel trav­el­ers to the big hubs. Elec­tric VTOL aircraft—also known as air taxis—could offer an alter­na­tive here. The prob­lem is that Europe has yet to stan­dard­ize an autho­riza­tion process for air taxis. The region­al air­ports would also have to be bet­ter net­worked with other means of trans­porta­tion. Germany’s only small air­port with its own train sta­tion right now is Bodensee-Friedrichshafen.

We have the space here to try out new approaches such as solar power systems and electric charging stations.

Walter Schoefer Walter Schoefer
Managing Director and Management Spokesman for Flughafen Stuttgart GmbH and an advisory board member for Baden-Airpark GmbH

Schoe­fer empha­sizes that region­al air­ports can only be com­mer­cial­ly suc­cess­ful if they offer all forms of air trav­el: busi­ness, vaca­tion, and indi­vid­ual flights. “The trans­for­ma­tion to cli­mate-friend­ly air trav­el will require con­sid­er­able mod­i­fi­ca­tions on our part,” he notes. The changes will have to be intro­duced in par­al­lel to nor­mal operations—which hope­ful­ly will run smooth­ly dur­ing the tran­si­tion. At the same time, he points to the enor­mous invest­ments that region­al air­ports will have to make. “It won’t be pos­si­ble with­out part­ners,” he pre­dicts. Air­lines and ener­gy com­pa­nies could con­tribute, because air­ports in cities like Söllin­gen, Biele­feld, Lübeck, and other non-cen­tral regions rep­re­sent poten­tial­ly lucra­tive sources of business.

Airports of the future

How can Porsche Consulting's aviation and sustainability experts help operators of regional airports chart a future-oriented course?
"Whenever you work intensively on a project, it's always a good idea to have neutral specialists assess whether the technical and economic framework conditions make sense," observes Managing Director Schoefer. "These should be solid before pursuing the course at high speed." Aviation experts like Marc Landgraf, Partner at Porsche Consulting, are familiar with airports around in the world and can contribute experience from elsewhere and provide fresh impulses. "This expertise is enormously helpful," confirms Schoefer. Continuous and trust-based dialogue between project director and consultant is always important: "Listening is crucial." If the company doesn't quite fit the "suit" currently being tailored, "a good consultant has to tell me where I have to lose weight and which fitness program will promote future viability." The expenditure for this type of consultant is money well spent. "It will save you medical costs down the road."
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