A regional court yesterday banned all night flights at Frankfurt Airport in a surprise decision. Nightly takeoffs and landings are no longer allowed from Oct. 21—the day the fourth runway opens at Europe’s third-largest airport.

The decision came as a complete surprise to all parties involved and is a major setback for cargo operators, particularly Lufthansa Cargo. The airline has scheduled 11 nightly flights per day for the upcoming winter timetable and is now faced with having to rearrange many of its aircraft rotations on very short notice. The airline says it expects the ruling to lead to major financial damage and believes it may have to cancel some flights because of the changes. The decision is based on a 2008 lawsuit filed to push through a complete curfew.

Frankfurt Airport has been lobbying for a new runway for many years. As part of a political compromise with neighboring communities, airport operator Fraport applied for the curfew in return for being allowed to open a fourth runway to be used for landings. The runway will be opened on Oct. 21 and will increase the airport’s capacity from 82 movements per hour to 126.

At a later stage of the planning process, the state government applied for an exemption for a total of 17 flights between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. based on the belief that any total ban would not be upheld by the courts. As it turns out, the opposite is true.

The ruling could be overthrown by Germany’s highest administrative court, but a decision is not expected before early next year, so that the total ban will apply at least for the current winter. It is also doubtful that the next and final instance will come to a different conclusion, observers say.

In addition to Lufthansa Cargo, leisure carrier Condor and Air Berlin have been among the most active to lobby for some nightly movements, given their early-morning departures and late-night arrivals.