Gunter Endres/LONDON

A DECISION BY Dusseldorf Airport to ban all turboprop flights, irrespective of size, has caused a furore among the dozen regional airlines affected by the decision, announced on 16 April.

Some airlines, have applied for an injunction and are expected to be heard by the Dusseldorf court, in early May. The European Regional Airlines Association made immediate representations to the European Commission.

The airport, which handles 14 million passengers a year, was recently hit by a fire, which killed 16 people.

It has wanted for some time to move regional operations to the refurbished general-aviation airport at nearby Monchengladbach, majority-owned by Dusseldorf Airport and re-named Dusseldorf Express Airport (DEX).

The fight to have the decision overturned is being led by German regional Eurowings, which has 138 weekly turboprop movements at Dusseldorf. It has transferred services to its main base at Dortmund because, says marketing manager Karl-Friedrich Muller, the short, 1,200m (3,900ft), runway and approach limitations at Monchengladbach impose too heavy a penalty on payload.

Muller says that, technical questions aside, DEX - in spite of being closer to Dusseldorf city centre than Dortmund - is in the wrong catchment area, for the Rhein-Ruhr region.

Dortmund can barely cope with an additional 1,000 passengers a day, having in 1995 already exceeded by 100,000 its design limit of 300,000 passengers. He fears that, if upheld, the ban will depress Eurowing's annual turnover by more than 10%.

Brad Burgess, managing director of CityFlyer Express, which operates BA Express services from London Gatwick, says that, to base the ban on the type of propulsion, rather than seat capacity, is illogical and hands a competitive advantage to Lufthansa.

According to an evaluation by the airline of the 1996 summer schedule, covering operations with aircraft with fewer than 85 seats, 91% of Lufthansa's services are flown with Avro and Canadair Regional Jets. "Allowing the operation of a 50-seat RJ, but not of a 66-seat ATR 72, makes no sense at all," Burgess says.

CityFlyer Express has joined Eurowings and Augsburg Airways in applying for an injunction and will be seeking compensation. It has increased the service to Cologne/Bonn, because, at DEX, it would incur a 50% payload penalty on the ATR 72.

Swiss regional Crossair operates Saab 2000s and Saab 340Bs from Basle, and has moved to DEX, because it incurs fewer penalties with the smaller aircraft. Flights operated for Swissair have been transferred to Cologne/Bonn, but Crossair supports the stance of the other airlines.

Claus Fischer, marketing manager of Augsburg Airways, says that the airline is already losing passengers on what is its most important route.

The airlines fear that, what has happened at Dusseldorf, could be the thin end of the wedge. If upheld by the court, it will give the green light to other congested major airports in Europe to drive out regional carriers.

Source: Flight International