“What I like about working at Stuttgart Airport is the variety of my job and working together with people. It’s not just sitting in the office but talking with people and seeing what people do,” says Ralf Brenner, the Safety Manager at Germany’s sixth busiest airport, while we’re in the baggage sorting area.
In 2015 the airport’s four terminals handled 10.5 million passengers, 3.5 million shy of their maximum capacity. Yet to my surprise, luggage travelling along Stuttgart Airport’s four sorting belts is still sorted manually.
I watch as employees check baggage tags then lift suitcases onto carts.
“Outbound luggage loss is low, somewhere between 0.1 and 0.2 per cent,” explains Ralf as we head into the control room. A bank of monitors shows suitcases jigging around on conveyor belts plus information about flights to and from the airport. Compared to the noise of the sorting area the room is quiet, allowing the team overseeing baggage handling to concentrate on their work.
If the belts do stop for a prolonged period then flights will be delayed. Naturally, the baggage sorting system at Stuttgart is designed to be efficient, and to keep passengers waiting for a minimum amount of time after landing at the airport.
One runway and four terminals
We get into an electric car to drive along the 3,345-metre long, 45-metre wide, strip of concrete that forms Stuttgart Airport’s runway.
Ralf explains that the runway is checked every four hours and how the grass alongside the concrete is carefully mowed, so that neither birds nor foxes pose a hazard to air traffic.
Looking around, I can see that it’s Germanwings and Air Berlin aircraft that make up the mainstay of the airliners parked on the curtain. In all, 42 airlines fly from Stuttgart, departing to 125 different destinations in 35 countries.
The airport is busiest between 6am and 7.30am. No flights are permitted out of the airport before that time, due to noise restrictions. The three hours before 10pm also prove busy.
Small aircraft and private jets
As we drive towards the end of the runway we pass private jets, some of which are used by the managing directors of companies based in the region.
Further along, propeller driven light aircraft are parked. Flying schools use the airport for training.
Ralf points to the flight control tower on the far side of the runway and explains how it’s the only one in Germany outside of the airport. It stands in Bernhausen and is guarded by federal border police.
A cargo centre also stands on the other side of the concrete. Around 19,000 tonnes of cargo and 11,000 tonnes of postage is transported through Stuttgart Airport each year.
Talking about airport safety
As we drive, we chat about airport safety and Ralf explains how airports differentiate between precautionary and emergency landings.
Ten fire engines are parked in the airport’s fire station. Each Ziegler truck costs around €800,000 and carries a crew of three firefighters. Every two years they participate in a major test, incorporating the simulation of a burning aircraft. If there are accidents on nearby autobahns, engines might go to help resolve issues.
The crews’ jackets and helmets hang ready for use, below metallic poles leading down from the firefighters’ rooms.
“Poles are still the most efficient way of reaching the trucks in an emergency,” explains Ralf.
As we head into the building’s foyer, displaying firefighting artefacts and photos, he explains that the state-of-the-art fire station is a key factor in why Stuttgart Airport has a safety rating of 10, the highest of international standards.
As we head back to the terminal I thank Ralf for his time and head through the building with a greater understanding of how Stuttgart Airport functions.
The airport is the home to the Michelin-starred Restaurant Top Air. Local Swabian and German cuisine are available in the airport’s Red Baron restaurant, one of several onsite food and drink outlets.
If you enjoy viewing aircraft, you can pass time before a flight on the airport’s observation deck, in Terminal 3 (an entry fee applies).
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
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Stuart flew from London Heathrow to Stuttgart Airport with Eurowings. The duration of the flight was around 95 minutes.