Ten years late, Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport finally opens (during a pandemic)

Berlin (CNN) — It’s 10 years delayed, four billion euros over finances and there is a world pandemic crippling the aviation business.

Happy Halloween to Berlin’s beleaguered Brandenburg Airport, which finally opens its doorways this Saturday.

The huge 1,470-hectare website within the Schönefeld area southeast of Berlin goals to be the state-of-the-art transportation hub that the German capital has at all times lacked, and can open up connections to extra long-haul locations.

But, having been hit by so many setbacks, complaints and inefficiencies that many have been calling the venture “cursed,” it is not been a simple journey — nor are the omens good.
Airports commerce physique Europe ACI warned Tuesday that almost 200 airports throughout Europe danger going bust inside months because of the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, with passenger site visitors down 73% yr on yr.

Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport (BER) is reported to have already been granted 300 million euros in state assist, with out transporting a single passenger — and whereas there isn’t any airport on the planet not feeling the warmth proper now, Berlin’s new airport isn’t any stranger to disaster.

Reunification dream

Plans to construct a central worldwide airport in Berlin date again to the town’s reunification period. After the autumn of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany’s leaders launched into discussions about establishing a new airport, which they believed would assist set up Berlin as a new world middle.

At the time, the town had three airports — Tegel “Otto Lilienthal” Airport, Schönefeld Airport and Tempelhof Airport — all of which performed important roles in Berlin’s turbulent post-war historical past.

Tempelhof, near the middle of Berlin, has since closed and turn into a main park. Tegel, a stopgap that became permanent, has soldiered on with overcrowded amenities and outdated facilities, and can shut November 8.
Schönefeld Airport — ranked “worst in the world” by on-line journey company eDreams in 2017 — closed October 25, with a lot of its infrastructure included into the brand new facility as the brand new Terminal 5.

So why did the brand new airport — formally referred to as Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt — take so lengthy to construct? How did such a daring imaginative and prescient for Berlin’s future wind up as an train in nationwide humiliation?

Complications from the outset

Official development started in 2006. Efforts to denationalise the venture failed, leaving the airport’s board in cost, underneath the possession of the federal German authorities, the state of Brandenburg and the town of Berlin.

The endeavor got here with a tough value evaluation of two.83 billion euros ($3.1 billion at at the moment’s trade charges) and critical ambition. It could be a formidable facility — touted as “the most modern” in Europe.

But a slew of technical points delayed progress whereas bloating the airport’s price ticket. The unique value projection grew to become a gross underestimation.

The full vary of architectural, structural and technical issues got here to a head in 2011, as an elaborate opening organized for June 2012 loomed.

At the tip of 2011, aviation inspectors started submitting into the development website to test alarm techniques and safety features. A defective fire-protection system design first stuffed specialists with doubts, and shortly it was clear there have been big issues with main structural parts, equivalent to escalator sizes, ceiling designs and ticket counters.

The envisioned opening, a splendid show full with an look from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was canceled simply weeks earlier than and morphed into a painful embarrassment for German officers.

The opening date was pushed to 2014, then 2016. A Brandenburg State Audit accomplished in 2016 concluded that the usability of the airport was at lower than 57%. Eventually, officers determined to cease providing an anticipated date and put the whole venture on maintain till main overhauls in administration and development might be accomplished.

Finally, as spending cruised previous the 7.Three billion euros mark, the date was pushed to 2020.

‘Ready for takeoff’

“The most important thing for us is that we open the airport,” airport boss Engelbert Luetke Daldrup tells CNN. “After very tough years of building and testing and trials, we are ready for takeoff.”

Terminal 1, which is able to welcome its first passengers on November 1, has a smooth glass facade with trendy furnishings and polished check-in counters.

The “Magic Carpet,” an set up by US artist Pae White that hangs from the ceiling of the check-in corridor, provides a splash of shade.

The general impression, nonetheless, is considered one of performance. The walnut paneling seems like a failed try so as to add heat and belongs extra to the 1990s, when plans for the airport have been first born. And with no greenery but to melt the outside, the constructing is darkish and box-like.

The elevators and escalators really feel very slender, suggesting that not all these design glitches have been efficiently ironed out.

Daldrup defends the airport towards any accusations of it being already outmoded.

“We had a lot of time to implement the newest technologies at this airport,” he says. “The airport in so many aspects, the technical aspects, has undergone very severe infrastructural redevelopment.

“We are in all probability the most secure airport of the world as a result of we’re so strictly examined, after the catastrophe of 2012.”

But thanks to Covid-19, it’ll be a while before the systems will be challenged by any substantial passenger traffic.

Operating at reduced capacity

Brandenburg Airport has capacity for more than 40 million passengers over Terminal 1, Terminal 5 and the upcoming Terminal 2 (which will open in spring 2021).

Thanks to the pandemic, though, it expects to only be handling about 11,000 passengers on its first day of operation on November 1, and just 24,000 a week later.

“Of course Covid instances are laborious instances, however in a single or two years we may have a lot of passengers right here,” Daldrup tells CNN. “People will take pleasure in this new trendy worldwide airport.”

Back in May, the German flag-carrier Lufthansa, the second-largest passenger carrier in Europe, received a $10 billion state bailout.

It, along with budget airline EasyJet, will be the two biggest players at BER. That role will be marked on opening day by two of the airlines’ planes ceremoniously performing a parallel landing on the two runways.

“We need assistance. All the massive airways need assistance,” says Daldrup. However, he says the airport’s owners have backed its financing for the upcoming years in order to provide the necessary assistance to cope with the crisis.

Signage and advertising was all able to go for the 2012 opening.

Adam Berry/Getty Images

“Everyone is aware of the capital of Germany wants a good infrastructure for worldwide connectivity,” he says. “We need extra flights to the United States, to New York, to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, so many fantastic cities.”

Arguing that the global economy is reliant on said connectivity, he adds “the airport business, the airports, the airways, are the spine of our financial restoration.”

Daldrup claims that the opening of the airport is “a signal of hope.” Lofty ambition has always been part of the Brandenburg Airport story, so it’s perhaps safer to say that it’s the close of what has been a very embarrassing chapter for a nation known for efficiency.

Back in 2012 — that cataclysmic year of Mayan prophecy — the opening was to be met with fanfare and razzmatazz. However, in 2020, the year when disaster truly struck the aviation industry, celebrations will be very muted.

Daldrup confirms: “There will probably be no social gathering.”

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