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Berlin’s BER Airport: The Screw Up of the Decade

Berlin has a new airport. Well, in theory. The plans for Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) were finalized in 1992. In 2011, the first passengers were supposed to be welcomed and handled.

The giant project was supposed to cost 2.1 billion Euro (2.4 billion U.S. Dollars or 1.8 billion GBP). Since Berlin was so proud of this airport, it was given the name of one of Germany’s greatest chancellors, Willy Brandt.

Now, seven years later, there is nothing more than a big screw up. Not only is BER still not ready. Its price tag has more than tripled. On top of it all, there is still no inauguration date for the airport located south of Berlin.

The Berlin House of Representatives has been dealing with the enormous mess surrounding BER Airport for a long time. This Friday, the next round will take place. The House’s second review board on the matter will meet, in oder to try to establish the reasons for the delay and for the unbelievable increase of the project’s costs.

At this stage, Berlin has four airports. Two of them are operational, the other two are not:

  • Schönefeld Airport: This one used to be the communist GDR’s largest airport. Its airline Interflug used to have its hub here, before the reunification took place. This airport still is operational.
  • Tegel Airport: During the Soviet Union’s blockade of West Berlin in 1948 and 1949, the largest airlift of all time, organized by the Americans, saved the residents. Since the airlift needed another runway and more space, the French and American Allies built one in Tegel. Today, Tegel Airport is Berlin’s largest one. It is operational.
  • Tempelhof Airport: This historic airport was established in 1923. The Nazis extended it substantially. Until it was closed 2008, hundreds of thousands of passengers departed and arrived at Tempelhof Airport, located close to Berlin’s city center.
  • Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER): This one was supposed to replace Tegel and Schönefeld in early 2012. It never happened.

For passengers, there is nothing better than carrying 15 kilos of hand luggage through a labyrinth in Schönefeld. In Terminal D, they go through security. Afterwards they walk up stairs in order to follow never ending corridors. On their way to Gate 44 they go down some stairs after a while, just before climbing other stairs and walking down many steps yet again.

Airports are useful when they are operational. Photo: Imanuel Marcus

They could have had a much more comfortable trip at BER Airport, had that project not been screwed up so badly. The same applies to the passengers at Tegel Airport, where the departure gates are spread all over an ugly, hexagonal building erected in the 1970s. AT BER, they would actually find their gates.

While Schönefeld, located in the vicinity of the new airport, counted 12.7 million passengers last year, Tegel registered 22 million. When and if BER Airport opens, it is supposed to handle 22 million passengers during its first year, while Schönefeld remains open for another five years.

Germany’s Minister of Transport, Andreas Scheuer, recently said he wanted Tegel Airport to keep on working as well, after the inauguration of the new one. Rumors are already spreading according to which the new airport already has a capacity problem before even becoming operational.

Had there not been countless similar announcements in the past seven years, one of Scheuer’s statements would have been more credible. He said he believed Berlin Brandenburg Airport would actually open in the fall of 2020. But at least there seems to be hope.

Among the many issues delaying the inauguration, the implementation of fire safety regulations was one of the biggest. More recently, 600 kilometers (373 miles) of cables could not be laid in the enormous building because there was not enough room.

Room continues to be a problem, in many ways. Ryanair needs more room, because this largest airline in Europe wants to expand further. Secondly, the number of passengers and flights originating from and landing in Berlin is constantly growing. Therefore it looks like BER’s Airport’s two runways will not suffice.

Related article: ‘BER Airport’: Germany’s Most Embarrassing Structure Ever