DP announces “Game Over” for domestic mail flights

63 years ago, on 01SEP1961, and at the instigation of the German government, Deutsche Post (DP) launched an overnight airmail network in Germany. Lufthansa B737 quick change passenger aircraft were deployed. Their seats were removed at night to accommodate as many letters and postcards as possible in the aircraft cabin. After more than six decades, this era came to an end on Thursday (28MAR24).

An intra-German postal night flight service lasting over six decades ended last week – photo: courtesy DP

The last routes served (both ways) were Stuttgart-Berlin, Hanover-Munich, and Hanover-Stuttgart. The final flight took off from Berlin Airport at 00:20 local time and arrived an hour later in Stuttgart. On board of the A320 operated by Eurowings Airlines, were approximately 270,000 letters, estimates Deutsche Post speaker, Alexander Edenhofer. He announced to CargoForwarder Global that small farewell events would be held at all stations that had been part of the network, to honor and thank the employees for their outstanding commitment.

Lufthansa and Pan Am were responsible for the transports
At the beginning, during the so-called Cold War, Lufthansa operated all domestic airmail routes except for the air corridor to Berlin, which was controlled by the Western Allies and served by the legendary former U.S. airline, PanAm, until the reunification of Germany in 1990. Over the years, additional carriers were added to operate the network, with Lufthansa terminating its night flights in 2008. Frankfurt airport served as the network hub for decades, but lost this role in 2005, due to the ban on night flights there.

As late as 1996, Deutsche Post was still transporting some 430 metric tons of letter mail with partner airlines operating 26 aircraft each night to 45 domestic destinations. However, since then, volumes successively declined, lately dropping to just 53 metric tons on average each night. The number of aircraft required fell accordingly, with only 6 still in operation until now.

Mixed feelings
The end of these postal services is regrettable but an inevitable step, states Marc Hitschfeld, Chief Operations Officer of DHL Group’s Post & Parcel Germany division. “We conclude the era of overnight letter airmail with mixed feelings. In times of climate change, airmail for domestic letters within Germany can no longer be justified – also because there is no longer the same urgency associated with letter mail as in decades past. So, on the one hand, the end of domestic airmail is good news for the environment. On the other hand, it closes a chapter of postal history which many Deutsche Post employees have identified with for decades.”

Mail volumes are constantly decreasing
Nostalgic sentiments are understandable, but on closer inspection there is no longer any need for night flights on routes of between 500 and 1000 km. This is due to several reasons: The volume of letters sent within Germany, has been on the decline since years, as confirmed by the latest figures presented at the Group’s annual conference on 06MAR24 ( https://cargoforwarder.eu/2024/03/06/dhl-declines-schenker-takeover/ ). According to these figures, revenue in the letter mail business within Germany fell by 4.9% in 2023, compared to 2022. Email, WhatsApp and other electronic channels have largely replaced letters. This trend, which has been ongoing for some time, continued seamlessly in Q1/2024, due to increased digitalization, and will not stop here, forecasts predict.

Climate considerations
Another key reason for no longer flying mail at night within Germany, is based on ecological considerations. Shifting the services from air to road means 80% fewer CO2 emissions on affected routes. Marc Hitschfeld: “In times of climate change, airmail for domestic letters within Germany can no longer be justified.”

Thirdly, there is a decision by the Berlin government, according to which a letter traveling within the country does not necessarily have to land in the recipient’s postbox the next day. The Scholz administration also considers a running time of two days to still be tolerable.

After the end of air services, Deutsche Post assures that it will continue to deliver fast letter mail transports between northern and southern Germany, for example by using Sprinter vans, among other modes. This is also made possible by reduced letter mail volumes and sorting times. Train solutions are not an option for Deutsche Post, states speaker, Edenhofer.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Akthough a number of arguments may be correct, I reckon they are simply blunt excuses.
    A small amount of night flight in environmentally-friendly modern aircraft into not noise-restricted airports would not change the climate,
    would not change anything, compared to the hundreds, the thousands of other flights criss-crossing the country every day and every night.
    A simple financial consideration, they want us to believe commercial stories.

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