Unlike a number of congested European hubs, Munich Airport traditionally has rolled out the welcome mat for Regional airlines. For this reason, the eighth-busiest airport in Europe was honored by the European Regions Airline Assn. at its annual meeting here in October as Airport of the Year.

MUC also has tallied up an impressive record of growth and is moving forward with plans for expansion. "Munich is a true partner for European Regional carriers," said COO Peter Trautmann, who accepted the same award that was given by ERA to the airport three years ago. A panel of judges that included airline and airport officials described Munich as "a fast-growing hub in the heart of Europe with a clear strategy that strongly supports the development of Regional airline traffic."

Airport officials say Regional traffic, which is not always welcomed at major European hubs because of space constraints, is an important business at MUC, where nearly a third of all passengers are connecting to other flights. Currently, some 99 airlines operate there, offering an average of 190 daily departures serving 227 destinations in 66 countries. In the first nine months of 2005, the airport saw steady growth of 7% to 21.7 million passengers. Commercial takeoffs and landings increased 5% to 291,000 fueled by Lufthansa, low-cost and Regional carriers. September was a record month with 2.9 million passengers.

"The hub operation needs the Regional traffic and gives the passengers the opportunity to transfer at a hub airport," Trautmann explains. Ticking off a list of accomplishments, he notes that MUC expects to see some 385,000 takeoffs and landings this year.

The planning process is underway for a third runway, which could take up to five years from start to completion of construction, he says. At present there are two parallel runways that can operate independently, but airport officials believe they will be at full capacity in another three years. Trautmann is not certain where the third runway will be located or how long it will be, as this will depend on the cost as well as environmental issues. "It may not be as long [as existing runways], but we are just calculating this," he says. Munich would like to increase the current 89 scheduled aircraft movements per hr. to 120.

"We will still concentrate on European markets. We will make sure there is space and service for the Regional airline," Trautmann says. "We will continue to look for traffic that is regional as well as long-haul." And, he joked, in reference to the high level of connecting traffic out of Italy, "We are the biggest north Italian airport connecting from towns in North Italy."

Growth has been the name of the game for MUC, which opened in 1992 and served 12 million passengers that year. In a decade, that number doubled to 24 million. Still, there is room for expansion, Trautmann notes, saying the airport has capacity now for 50 million annual passengers and will top out this year at 28 million.

Numbers and statistics are a significant part of the picture, but a stroll through the bright, spacious terminal shows another side of the airport and makes it obvious that passenger comfort and convenience are a premium. Light pours in from large expanses of glass, walkways are wide and there is a first-rate assortment of shopping and dining venues. "We try to balance nonaviation with aviation revenues," says Andreas von Puttkaner, who works with the airport's marketing staff. "We keep the passengers and the staff happy."