Hamburg Aviation - Dr Franz Kirschfink - Aviation trends

Hamburg Aviation: the third largest civil aviation location is sited in Hamburg

Charlotte Ebert
13 pictures
7 minutes

Part 1 of the interview with Managing Director Dr Kirschfink of Hamburg Aviation

When you think of Hamburg, the Elbe Philharmonic Concert Hall, the St. Pauli Piers Landungsbrücken and of course those delicious sweet pasties (Franzbrötchen) immediately come to mind. However, few people know that Hamburg is the world’s third largest civil aviation location and that every sixth aircraft in the global fleet is built in Hamburg. Dr Franz Kirschfink, Managing Director of Hamburg Aviation e.V., told us this. The Aviation Cluster is an association that promotes the development of the aviation industry in the Hamburg Metropolitan Area.

Interview with Hamburg Aviation – Dr Franz Kirschfink

In the first part of the interview we spoke with Dr Kirschfink about the importance of Hamburg for aviation. In the second part, we take a look into the future and talk about one of the most important trends in urban mobility: drones and their potential to do real good for the population.

Dr Kirschfink, what fascinates you about flying?

Aside from the fact that people are transported over long distances, I have always been fascinated by the complexity. I have been studying the technical facets of flying for over twenty years. When I was still with Lufthansa Technik, I was mainly concerned with materials for the construction of engines. This is one of the most complex topics!

Many people want less and less complexity in their lives. What exactly is it that appeals to you?

When topics are obviously very simple, there is no incentive to look for new solutions or to find a good answer to the questions. Maybe it also comes from my scientific background, because I am a physicist by nature.

In physics there are no simple topics and solutions. You have to approach more complex things and work with others. Sometimes three to four hundred people work on a topic and only by working together can a good result be achieved.

It’s the same in aviation. Smooth flight operations can only be achieved if all wheels mesh and all processes are coordinated. For me, its appeal has always been to shape, improve and change this process.

Communication also plays a major role here.

Yes, communication plays a very important role. That also means that you don’t just talk, but also check how the other person perceives what you’ve said. Especially when people with different cultural or language backgrounds sit at the same table, special attention must be paid to this.

Aviation has always been international: no aircraft in the world flies with parts that come from just one country. Every sixth aircraft in the world’s flying fleet is built in Hamburg, the place for aviation. That is more than the market share of German cars worldwide.

Hamburg is certainly known as the place for aviation. But it is not necessarily famous yet. What do you think is the reason for this?

When I started working for Hamburg Aviation five years ago, one of the key questions was: How can we bring what is being done for aviation in the Hamburg region to the rest of the world? We wanted to make it clearer, first to the local population and then to the world, that Hamburg is the third largest civil aviation location in the world. Everyone knows Toulouse and Seattle, but after that, it gets kind of thin.

My first measure was the expansion of the press department; with the recruitment of Mr. Kaestner (we at WingMag had also already interviewed him). Another idea was to make the Crystal Cabin Award a feature for Hamburg. After all, it has been awarded since 2007, and right at the beginning of my work I was told: “Make sure that we become a little bit better known in the world.” So this is one of our central tasks.

To do this, we need major players in the industry, among others. Who would you like to have at the location?

A year and a half ago, we succeeded in making DLR Hamburg Aviation’s neighbour. We fought for this for ten years and it was worth it. We would also like to encourage other larger companies to join us. Like Safran, for example, with whom we have developed a good working relationship. Now we have to see how we can get other major players interested in Hamburg.

Of course, companies that are not directly involved in aviation are also welcome. In the near future, there will certainly be some exciting topics that aviation will have to tackle: Eco-efficient flying and sustainability, for example.

What do you think will come? For example, there are now many people who want to ban domestic flights in Germany.

These discussions partly make me angry. Not because I don’t think the topic is important, quite the contrary!

If you take a closer look at the history, you can see that aviation itself has always pointed this out. For example, there was a Lufthansa express train to transfer the flights from Cologne and Düsseldorf to Frankfurt completely to rail, and it was successful! The aim was to transfer all flights under five hundred kilometres to rail within the next twenty years. Do you know who was responsible for the failure? Deutsche Bahn. More precisely, the performance and the will to invest money in fast trains and connections.

The other issue is alternative fuels. When the big oil crisis came and the price of oil rose, it was decided to start emissions trading in aviation. Since 2012 aviation has been paying CO2 emission fees and alternative fuels became an important topic.


The energy density that I can store in the battery is so bad in relation to its weight that the batteries are nowhere near able to keep up. In Germany, fuel cells were therefore considered very early on as an alternative to batteries. We also conducted a trial on this topic in 2010 with Airbus and DLR. The aim was to roll an A320 with a fuel cell: Electric Taxi.

The fuel cell worked and delivered enough power to keep the aircraft taxiing. The next idea to be pursued was to replace the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) with a fuel cell. Technically this would be possible today.

At the time, however, Airbus wanted to launch a new medium-haul aircraft on the market. The choice fell on the A320neo. Instead of producing a new aircraft, an existing model was reissued as the “neo”. However, it would not have been economical to install the fuel cell in an existing design. Therefore, the topic was not pursued at that time and was only recently taken up again.

The Diehl Company, for example, has now developed a fuel cell with which a galley could be operated autonomously, which would further reduce the consumption of kerosene. If the engine could be relieved of the galley’s load as well as of cabin lighting and air conditioning, it would be possible to operate the engines at much lower cost. Fuel savings of five to ten percent would be possible. I would like to put the subject back to the forefront, because I see that batteries don’t work for several physical reasons: Among other things, the great weight and the lower energy density.

Hydrogen can also be produced using “green” wind power. But hydrogen has an energy density four times lower than kerosene, so you would need four times as much to produce the same energy. Fuel cells and sharing the burden of alternative fuels and bio-fuel in another way, these are the issues of the future in my opinion.

About Dr. Franz Josef Kirschfink

Born in Belgium, he originally comes from a background in physics. He received his doctorate in elementary particle physics and began his career with Lufthansa in 1989. He is passionate about complex topics and has been Managing Director of Hamburg Aviation since 2014. Privately, he is married and has lived in Hamburg for more than 30 years.

Photographer s.h.schroeder / © WingMag

by Charlotte Ebert

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