If the Rosetta spacecraft’s Philae lander successfully makes the first soft touchdown in history on a comet in November, a loud cheer will go up in Cologne. That is because the city is home to the mission’s 'Lander Control Center' (LCC).

With a strong history in aviation and aerospace, Cologne is also a base for the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), German aeronautics and space research centre DLR (which houses the LCC), the European Astronaut Training Centre, Cologne-Bonn Airport and low-cost airline operator Germanwings. The city is also the home of Germany’s largest airline, Deutsche Lufthansa, although the company has announced plans to move its head office to Frankfurt by 2017.

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The aerospace and aviation sector is supported by several of Cologne’s educational establishments, including the University of Cologne, which hosts a number of specialist air transport institutes, such as the Institute for Air and Space Law. Other institutes are involved in aerospace-linked alliances, such as the German Sport University Cologne’s Institute of Physiology and Anatomy, which is researching how the body reacts to stress and weightlessness in space.

“Cologne is a good place to recruit people with a scientific and engineering background,” says Thomas Weissenberg, head of the department of international relations at the DLR. “People like to live here, so it is easy to attract the right calibre of employee. Its reputation for space research and DLR’s long-standing co-operation with the University of Cologne in areas such as space law make it a place where people with these skills will come.”

International location

EASA’s offices currently dominate the skyline of the Deutz district of Cologne, although there are plans to move the organisation to the other side of the Rhine, close to the city’s central railway station. Its location in the centre of Europe is a big attraction for many of its staff. “Our 700-strong workforce comes from across Europe,” says Dominique Fouda, safety information and communications officer at EASA. “We have about 140 French employees and an equal number of Germans. UK and Italian nationals are also well represented. It’s easy to access for all of them."

Three airports are reachable within an hour of Cologne. The Skytrax award-winning Cologne Bonn Airport takes about 15 minutes to get to by train, and Düsseldorf and Frankfurt are also easy to reach. “The Cologne region has very good prevailing weather conditions, with little or no fog, so aircraft from Frankfurt and Düsseldorf are sometimes diverted here,” says Ulrich Stiller, director, marketing and sales, at Cologne Bonn Airport.

“We have 47 airlines serving 148 destinations in 44 countries. We’re trying to attract more long-haul flights with a service to the Caribbean starting this winter,” he adds.

Links to business

The city’s aviation and aerospace organisations have created strong links with industry. “We’ve instigated partnerships with numerous major firms,” says Mr Weissenberg. “Last year we teamed up with [French multinational] Alstom and [aerospace company] Rolls-Royce to invest almost €50m in gas turbine research infrastructure, including a combustor test facility.”

Although Cologne looks set to lose its status as the home to Lufthansa's headquarters – something that insiders say is no real surprise given the size of the airline’s base at Frankfurt Airport – those working in the sector are upbeat about the city's future prospects. Lufthansa is already in talks with Cologne Bonn Airport over using it as the base for its potential new low-cost, long-haul hub, while DLR has plans to expand further and EASA is on track to move to its new location in the city, all of which look set to propel the city further as a European aerospace and aviation hub.