LEIPZIG/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A German court on Wednesday ruled in favor of a night flight ban at Frankfurt airport, Europe's third busiest, dealing a blow to German flagship airline Lufthansa and airport operator Fraport.
Lufthansa says it needs night flights at the airport so its cargo operations can compete with fast-growing Gulf airports and has warned the freight unit's future investment plans of up to 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) rest on the decision.
After the local government said in 2009 it would allow 17 flights between 11 pm and 5am local time from the end of October 2011 on economic grounds, residents under the flight paths took the case to court.
Their complaint was upheld in October by a local court just ahead of the opening of the Fraport operated airport's fourth runway, drawing howls of protest from airlines.
On Wednesday, the judge at a higher court in Leipzig confirmed the ban and said the federal state of Hesse must make a new decision on whether to allow night flights. He cautioned, however, that there was little room for maneuver.
Lufthansa shares fell 2.4 percent while Fraport was down 1.1 percent.
At a hearing last month, the judge had indicated mistakes had been made in the approval process for the new runway, under which a mediator proposed a night flight ban, before the local government unilaterally decided to allow 17 flights.
Since the temporary ban was implemented, regular Monday protests at the airport have also seen up to 5,000 people calling for the ban to be extended by two hours each night and for the new runway to be shut down.
(Reporting by Peter Maushagen and Victoria Bryan; Editing by Mike Nesbit)