Technology and sustainability drive success at Cologne Bonn Airport


On the back of a strong year in 2022, Cologne Bonn Airport (CGN) has an eye on the future. Despite last year’s geopolitical situation, the airport was able to keep its numbers at a very high level, almost equal to 2021, with 971,000 tonnes of air cargo throughput and around 40,000 freighter movements.

Having welcomed dnata as new cargo handler in 2022, the major German hub, currently ranked as Europe’s eighth largest airfreight airport, is looking to capitalise on the opportunities provided by investments and technological innovation.

dnata arrived at CGN through the acquisition of Wisskirchen Handling Services, the exclusive operator of Cologne Bonn Cargo Center. The 12,000 sq m facility at CGN provides a full range of cargo services and is capable of handling all commodities, including general airfreight, perishables, pharmaceutical, dangerous goods, valuables, electronics and consumer goods.

READ: Cologne Bonn Airport celebrates profitable 2022

Greening the apron at CGN

Cologne Bonn Airport continues its investment in numerous sustainable projects, supporting both the society and the environment. The airport is taking the necessary steps to reduce CO2 emissions by 65% until 2030 and reach CO2 neutrality in 2045.

Together with Eurowings, CGN planted 6,000 trees in the ‘Königsforst’, the forest which surrounds the airport. These trees have a positive effect on the forest’s flora and fauna, transforming CO2 into oxygen and helping with carbon offsetting.

The transition from conventional to electric vehicles is also in motion. Currently, about 100 electric vehicles are used by CGN Airport, including different ground support equipment (GSE) on the apron. The plan is to heavily expand the fleet of electric vehicles and machinery in the coming years.

Another way of offsetting is how electricity, heat and cooling is generated at CGN. Seven extensive photovoltaic systems have been installed on warehouse rooftops. In total, the 13,000 units produce 2,800 MWh of green electricity per year. An additional 8,600 solar panels will be installed within the next months in the course of a €2.5 million investment. On top of that, the airport runs its own block-type thermal plant, allowing it to use 90% of the primary energy, which is double the amount conventional large power plants use.

In terms of heating and cooling warehouse, the airport implemented a ground-breaking ice-storage technology in its newest facilities. Another convenient energy-saving measure has already been in place at CGN Airport for a few years. Every light bulb was switched with LED lamps, including on all three runways. Through this measure alone, 60% of energy has been saved compared to using regular lights.

Another major opportunity with regard to sustainability is being able to offer Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in CGN. The airport co-operates with Neste, a major producer of SAF. The fuel is made out of biological disposals and therefore produces 80% less emissions compared to traditional fossil jet fuel.

A huge advantage is that no aircraft architecture has to be modified in order to be fuelled with SAF. Not only is it compliant with the aircraft’s engine system but also with all aviation standards. Neste’s SAF is a simple drop-in solution, which allows CGN to grow while meeting sustainability goals and GHG reduction targets.

Since the beginning of 2023, SAF can be directly sourced via a pipeline connection. Knowing that the airport offers SAF makes it more attractive to environmentally-conscious clients. With Neste’s plans to expand their production capacity, doors are left open at CGN for more airlines to fight climate change and adapt SAF.

The airport also prides itself on social engagement in addition to its environmental measures. Every year, the airport supports numerous social institutions and projects within the region. For example, the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria saw Cologne Bonn Airport provide help and organise supportive measures quickly. Besides financial donations, the airport facilitated rescue flights for both the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) and the International Search and Rescue (ISAR) teams, including transporting special equipment and search dogs to the affected region in Turkey.

READ: Improving airfreight operations on the ground

Digital and tech innovations

Cologne Bonn Airport is taking a big step towards a digital future: Together with the IT service provider NTT Ltd., Cologne Bonn Airport is building a completely private 5G mobile phone network across an area of 1,000 hectares. The goal of this joint research and cooperation project is to push ahead with technological innovations, such as intelligent luggage checks and border control, to achieve significant improvements in the airport’s operating efficiency.

The Internet of Things (IoT), automated vehicles on the runway and mobile security systems all indicate the growing necessity to manage an increasingly large quantity of objects and relating data. 5G enables better connectivity and improved processing of rapidly growing data flows, which allows the airport, airlines and ground handling staff, as well as third party companies, to work together more effectively and in a more straightforward way.

NTT is currently developing one of Europe’s largest private 5G mobile phone networks for Cologne Bonn Airport. With complete 5G coverage across the entire 1,000 hectares estate – the equivalent of 1,400 football pitches – it will be possible in the future to determine the exact location of devices and people, transport luggage on self-driving vehicles, and use autonomous robots to secure the site, as well as to provide intelligent services for the logistics hubs.