Magdeburg-Cochstedt Airport has rejoined the German aviation network. The official reopening took place on 6 May 2022, attended by representatives from government, academia and industry. Take-offs and landings for aircraft up to 5.7 tonnes will once again be possible at Magdeburg-Cochstedt Airport, initially in accordance with visual flight rules. Linking the airport with the National Experimental Test Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), has created a unique test infrastructure. Together, they make it possible to test the integration of uncrewed air traffic into regular, controlled flight operations in a comprehensive manner. The opening of the test centre and the associated start of tests involving uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) took place in 2021. Customers and partners from industry, research and the authorities will now be provided with more extensive testing opportunities. The test centre is part of a Europe-wide network for UAS research.
"The resumption of airport operations is another decisive step in the development and expansion of DLR's Cochstedt site," says Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. "With Magdeburg-Cochstedt Airport, we are establishing a comprehensive field laboratory for our National Experimental Test Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. This laboratory serves to develop and test new technology concepts that will expand Germany's pioneering role in the field of uncrewed flight and strengthen targeted technology transfer from research to industry."
Minister President Dr Reiner Haseloff said: "I am pleased that we have found a solid and reliable user of the traditional Cochstedt airfield in DLR. I am convinced that this will enable the site to be used on a permanent basis. The test centre will advance the region and permanently strengthen Saxony-Anhalt as a hub of science and innovation. The work on unmanned aerial systems will lead to many more possible applications. An important contribution to this will be made from Cochstedt in the future."
Armin Willingmann, Minister for Science, Energy, Climate Protection and the Environment of Saxony-Anhalt emphasised: "Uncrewed flight is an important topic for the future. I am therefore very pleased that, together with DLR, we have succeeded in developing Cochstedt Airport into a test centre for uncrewed aircraft systems. In the coming years, Cochstedt can develop into a beacon of research and an attractive place for companies from the aviation and logistics sector, giving Saxony-Anhalt a further boost as a location for science and business. It is therefore important that the Ministry of Science continues to institutionally support the test centre in the coming years."
Lydia Hüskens, Minister for Infrastructure and Digital Affairs of Saxony-Anhalt added: "The recently reopened Magdeburg-Cochstedt commercial airport enjoys special state interest as a national test centre for unmanned aircraft systems. The DLR initiative will break new ground in crewed and uncrewed aviation through the unique interactions between flight operations and research at the Magdeburg-Cochstedt site. I would like to thank all those involved – in particular the responsible aviation authorities and the airport operator, DLR – who have worked tirelessly over the past few months to make the airport fit for future research and who will continue to support this development."
The state administration office in Halle initially granted permission for take-offs and landings based on DLR's operating concept on 1 April 2022. This has now been followed by the official reopening of the airport under the International Air Transport Association (IATA) code CSO. "With the reopening of the airport in Cochstedt, DLR is making a contribution to the provision of public services in the state of Saxony-Anhalt in addition to the site's test operations," says Lutz Tilgner, Managing Director and shareholder of Magdeburg-Cochstedt Airport Operating Company (Flughafen Magdeburg-Cochstedt Betriebsgesellschaft mbH), a subsidiary founded by DLR and Tilgner. "Traffic is initially limited to a permitted take-off weight of 5.7 tonnes in visual flight operations until the end of 2023, with operating hours on weekdays between 10:00 and 17:00."
Currently, the airport operating company employs six people to handle airport operations. As part of the phased concept to expand flight operations at Cochstedt, additional airport operations jobs are expected to follow from 2024, in addition to an increase in the weight restriction to 14 tonnes and the establishment of an instrument landing system.
A wide range of partnerships for uncrewed aviation
The activities in Cochstedt are integrated into DLR-wide projects and cooperation with partners from research and industry in Germany, Europe and around the world. DLR already cooperates scientifically in the field of UAS research with major research institutions such as the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The test site in Saxony-Anhalt will be accessible to start-ups and established aerospace companies for research and testing and function as an incubator and enabler for start-ups and SMEs. For licensing reasons, it is necessary that new UAS are tested and qualified under realistic conditions in a controlled environment. New regulations for the operation of UAS also need to be extensively researched and developed.
Existing buildings and facilities will be repaired and converted. The scientific infrastructure will then be developed and built up. To achieve operational status, the re-commissioning of the commercial airport took place on a smaller scale. A total of approximately 15 million euros will be invested in the development of scientific as well as operational infrastructures by the end of 2022. For the establishment of operational capability, 2.5 million euros were invested directly in the airport infrastructure. The remaining investment funds will be used primarily to build up research infrastructure as part of the establishment of the UAS test centre. New scientific and technical staff will advance the development in the coming months. The goal is to have a total of around 30 employees in research and operations at the site by the end of 2022, with up to 60 employees in the future.
The first projects and test campaigns have already taken place in Cochstedt. For example, in 2021 there were extensive final tests of the DLR project City-ATM, in which several real drones were flown alongside approximately 100 virtual drones in a complex traffic scenario. In addition, various flight tests took place with the DLR uncrewed flight test vehicles SuperARTIS and the ALAADy Demonstrator. Additional research projects such as Drones4Good and HorizonUAM are being added. Projects with European research partners, industrial companies and NGOs, in the field of humanitarian aid, for example, are also working with the research facilities in Cochstedt. Further projects are in preparation.