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Lambert International Airport secures first nonstop flight to mainland Europe in two decades

Commerical planes parked at a St. Louis Lambert International Airport terminal.
St. Louis Lambert International Airport
Starting in June, St. Louis Lambert International Airport will operate about three flights a week direct to Frankfurt, Germany.

Updated at 6 p.m., Dec. 14, with more details and reaction from a press conference

St. Louis Lambert International Airport is getting its first nonstop flight to continental Europe in two decades — a major win for the business community.

Lufthansa Airlines announced Tuesday it will begin operating about three flights a week to Frankfurt, Germany starting in June.

St. Louis elected officials and business groups have been trying to secure a direct flight to continental Europe for years. St. Louis Lambert International Airport last operated an European flight to Iceland for a brief stint through WOW Air that ended in 2018. The airport ended nonstop services to London through American Airlines in 2003 and to Paris through TWA in 2001.

The airport secured the flight with the help of regional business groups including Greater St. Louis Inc., the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and World Trade Center St. Louis.

The key to securing the nonstop flight is a $5 million commitment from regional business groups and some of the area’s largest corporations. The St. Louis County Port Authority committed up to $2.5 million over two years and Greater St. Louis Inc., including several of its members, matched that amount. The airport also agreed to cover the cost of landing fees for 18 months, which adds up to more than half a million dollars.

The incentive is paid if Lufthansa operates three flights a week and meets performance criteria. Businesses that contributed funding to the effort include: Centene, Emerson Electric, Enterprise Holdings, Hermann Companies, Hunter Engineering and Nestle Purina PetCare. The William T. Kemper Foundation also contributed.

Following a press conference announcing the news Tuesday, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said the direct flight to Europe puts St. Louis back on the map.

“We have tons of families who will now be able to connect directly to St. Louis through Frankfurt to other parts of the world — to Asia, to Africa and other parts of Europe. And this is a big win for business,” she said.

Lambert Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said people have been asking her for a nonstop flight to Europe ever since she started in the role.

“Not only did we hear them, but we’ve worked really hard to build back the relationships and build back the community support here,” she said. “I think people ought to recognize that the community stepped up to the plate because they saw the value and the asset that this airport is.”

She’s worked on several other potential European flight deals over the years, some that offered more money in incentives, but she said the key to locking in the Frankfurt flight was that business groups and politicians worked collectively with the airport to come up with an incentive package.

“We’ve had bits and pieces, but we’ve never had a collaborative effort like this,” Hamm-Niebruegge said.

She said German agtech company Bayer, which operates its North American headquarters from St. Louis, contributed greatly to persuading Lufthansa that the flight to St. Louis would be helpful not only to its employees but international commerce.

The opportunity for revenue from air cargo was also a big selling point. Frank Naeve, vice president of sales at Lufthansa Group Passenger Airlines for the Americas, said the AirBus A330 planes can carry up to 60,000 pounds of cargo in the underbelly, below passengers.

“That’s really a lot of cargo,” he said. “We’ve seen during the pandemic how important air cargo is in terms of the contributions to supply chains.”

The new nonstop flights link St. Louis to Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub, which operates flights throughout Europe and to other parts of the world. Naeve said the flights from St. Louis are part of an effort to increase the airline’s U.S. flights by 20% next year.

Prominent local business executives touted the news in a press release Tuesday morning.

Andy Taylor, executive chairman of Enterprise and founding chair of Greater St. Louis Inc., said it’s a major step toward addressing the region’s transportation infrastructure needs and advancing the goals laid out in a jobs plan released by Greater St. Louis Inc. earlier this year.

“This is exactly the type of win we can secure for St. Louis when we work together and speak with one voice around a common objective,” he said in a statement.

The flight will be helpful to Bayer workers, said Rodrigo Santos, chief operation officer for Bayer Crop Science.

“Restoring non-stop international air services helps St. Louis solidify our status as a truly global center of innovation and commerce,” he said in a statement.

Ticket sales for non-stop flights from St. Louis to Frankfurt are now available.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.