Marking the end of an era, Deutsche Post has discontinued its overnight airmail network in Germany after 63 years in operation. The early hours of March 28 saw the last overnight flights by Eurowings and Tui Fly transporting letters to and from northern and southern Germany on the routes Stuttgart-Berlin, Hanover-Munich and Hanover-Stuttgart. In the interest of sustainability, letter mail on these routes will be transported exclusively via road in the future. This will allow Deutsche Post to reduce transport-related CO2 emissions on these routes by more than 80%.

“We conclude the era of overnight letter airmail with mixed feelings,” says Marc Hitschfeld, Chief Operations Officer of DHL Group’s Post & Parcel Germany division. “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, the end of overnight airmail closes a chapter of postal history which many Deutsche Post employees have identified with for decades.”

On August 22, 1961, Germany’s then Federal Minister of Post and Telecommunications Richard Stücklen (CSU) and the chairman of Deutsche Lufthansa AG signed a contract for the transport of letters and postcards by air within the Federal Republic of Germany without airmail surcharge. This marked the start of the overnight airmail network, which officially began operations on September 1, 1961, with the goal of faster letter mail service within Germany. At the time, letters and telegrams were the only medium for quickly transmitting written communication – a function long since assumed by digital media such as email, WhatsApp, etc.

The first partner in the overnight airmail network was Lufthansa, which serviced all routes at the time with the exception of the air corridor to Berlin controlled by the Western Allies (serviced by the American carrier PanAm until 1990). Over the years, additional airlines were added to service the network, with Lufthansa terminating its service in 2008. The Frankfurt (am Main) airport served as the network hub for decades, but lost this role in 2005 due to the ban on night flights at Frankfurt.

As late as 1996, Deutsche Post was still transporting some 430 metric tons of letter mail with 26 partner airline aircraft to 45 destinations every night. In the end, it was only 53 metric tons, with six aircraft servicing the routes Stuttgart-Berlin, Hanover-Munich and Hanover-Stuttgart (each in both directions). This amounted to some 1.5 million letters flown each night or roughly 270,000 items per aircraft on average.

Political and social consensus in Germany today has largely determined that ensuring speedy delivery of most domestic letter mail by the following workday is no longer a core component of universal postal service. Instead, focus is much more on the social-environmental aspects and impacts of the postal service. Accordingly, the reforms to Germany’s Postal Act (PostModG) – currently in deliberation in Germany’s parliament and expected to take effect soon – stipulate longer transit times for letter mail, which has long been the norm in most EU countries. Nevertheless, Deutsche Post will continue to ensure fast letter mail transport between northern and southern Germany with the deployment of Sprinter vans, among other modes. This is also made possible by reduced letter mail volumes and sorting times.