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Airbus Hamburg in Crisis Over Church Land Row

The Hamburg aviation plant responsible for preparing and delivering the new Airbus A380 super-jumbo could lose the privilege if a local church council succeeds in blocking the extension of the plant's runway.

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The plan to extend the Hamburg runway is facing dogged resistance

It is a dispute that could potentially cost the German aircraft production industry one of the biggest contracts in recent years.

The Airbus factory at Finkenwerder near Hamburg requires a longer runway to cope with the soon-to-be launched freight version of the new super-jumbo A380.

However, the proposal to lengthen the existing runway has run into serious and stubborn opposition from the local parish council of the municipality of Neuenfelde, which resolutely refuses to sell any of its land to accommodate the extension. Arbitration discussions between the parties have failed and the church leaders have made it clear that negotiations are over.

The row revolves around an increase of tarmac by 589 meters (644 yards) which would encroach on fruit plantations and the outer limits of the community. For the new A380s to arrive from their main production center in Toulouse in France and leave from the German factory on the boundaries of the Hanseatic town, this extension is of paramount importance. Without it, the Airbus plant is threatened with huge losses.

Loss of Airbus work threatens plant

The new flagship airplanes arriving for prep work for delivery would have to go elsewhere, resulting in the loss of around 100 jobs and could lead to Hamburg losing its place as a major center in the worldwide aviation construction industry. This in turn would see the loss of even more jobs from the 7,000-strong workforce which would be relocated to other Airbus plants.

Airbus-Gespräche in Hamburg erfolglos verlaufen

The Hamburg-Neuenfelde church at the center of the storm.

So far, the opposition has retained the upper hand despite a split between the church elders. Bishop Maria Jespen has expressed her “exceptional annoyance” at the refusal of the other members of the parish council to continue discussions over selling the property. But the upper administrative court in Hamburg decided in favor of the church’s majority decision at an initial hearing in August and stopped construction of the extended runway. Airbus responded by upping its compensation payment by €3 million ($3.95 million).

Parent group considers French relocation

This weekend will see crisis talks take place in a bid to resolve the dispute and save the future of the Hamburg plant. Should there be no compromise, the A380 will have to find another home, with the production plant in Toulouse ready to accept the extra work.

"If the runway extension does begin in November, we can ready and deliver the airplanes in Toulouse", Rainer Hertrich, head of Airbus parent group EADS, threatened in an interview with the daily Berliner Zeitung. Relocation to the French location would not prove problematic, Heinrich added.

A380 signals intent in Boeing battle

Airbus A380

The Airbus A380 super-jumbo.

The construction of the A380 is the loudest statement of intent from Airbus in its battle with US rival Boeing. While Boeing is still the number one in terms of turnover, Airbus could edge out its competitor in the civil aviation market with the new super-jumbo. The A380 has an order book currently standing at a confirmed 129 planes with many more interested parties waiting in the wings.

The A380 takes its maiden voyage in the spring of 2005. Whether the Hamburg plant takes any further part in its development until then remains to be seen.

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