Nine years late and x3 over budget due to problems, Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport finally opens (during a pandemic)

Berlin’s ‘laughing stock’ airport to finally opens, nine years late and three times over budget (nearly €6 billion) – after years of problems. Its timing, during the Covid pandemic, is bad. The opening of Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport (BER) as it is known, was meant to be a moment of triumph for Berlin, as a gleaming new interconnected hub that suited its status as the capital of Europe’s biggest economy.  Critics say it now has the look and feel of a costly white elephant, a throwback to a bygone era of mass tourism and global mobility that Covid-19 has ended.  With all its design and structural problems, BER had become a “laughing stock”, of which many German engineers were ashamed. There will be no opening party, as the airport will have few passengers.  BER has four times more space than the tiny Tegel city airport it replaces. BER was meant to start making a profit from 2025 and pay off its outstanding €3.5bn in loans over 10 years.  But now it needs additional financing of over €300m this year, with some €50m-€60m raised from internal cost-cutting measures and €260m from the airport’s shareholders — the German federal government and the authorities in Berlin and Brandenburg.


See articles on the airport’s problems over the past 9 years, lower down this page.

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

30th October 2020

Berlin (CNN)

It’s 10 years behind schedule, 4 billion euros over budget and there’s a global pandemic crippling the aviation industry.  Happy Halloween to Berlin’s beleaguered Brandenburg Airport, which finally opens its doors this Saturday.

The massive 1,470-hectare site in the Schönefeld region southeast of Berlin aims to be the state-of-the-art transportation hub that the German capital has always lacked, and will open up connections to more long-haul destinations.

But, having been hit by so many setbacks, complaints and inefficiencies that many were calling the project “cursed,” it’s not been an easy journey — nor are the omens good.
Airports trade body Europe ACI warned Tuesday that nearly 200 airports across Europe risk going bust within months due to the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, with passenger traffic down 73% year on year.

Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport (BER) is reported to have already been granted 300 million euros in state aid, without transporting a single passenger — and while there’s no airport in the world not feeling the heat right now, Berlin’s new airport is no stranger to crisis.

Plans to build a central international airport in Berlin date back to the city’s reunification era. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany’s leaders launched into discussions about constructing a new airport, which they believed would help establish Berlin as a new world center.

At the time, the city had three airports — Tegel “Otto Lilienthal” Airport, Schönefeld Airport and Tempelhof Airport — all of which played significant roles in Berlin’s turbulent post-war history.
Tempelhof, close to the center of Berlin, has since closed and become a major park. Tegel, a stopgap that became permanent, has soldiered on with overcrowded facilities and outdated amenities, and will close November 8.

Schönefeld Airport — ranked “worst in the world” by online travel agency eDreams in 2017 — closed October 25, with much of its infrastructure incorporated into the new facility as the new Terminal 5.

So why did the new airport — officially called Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt — take so long to build? How did such a bold vision for Berlin’s future wind up as an exercise in national humiliation?

Complications from the outset

Official construction began in 2006. Efforts to privatize the project failed, leaving the airport’s board in charge, under the ownership of the federal German government, the state of Brandenburg and the city of Berlin.

The endeavor came with a rough cost assessment of 2.83 billion euros ($3.1 billion at today’s exchange rates) and serious ambition. It would be an impressive facility — touted as “the most modern” in Europe.

But a slew of technical issues delayed progress while bloating the airport’s price tag. The original cost projection became a gross underestimation.

The full range of architectural, structural and technical problems came to a head in 2011, as an elaborate opening organized for June 2012 loomed.

At the end of 2011, aviation inspectors began filing into the construction site to check alarm systems and security features. A faulty fire-protection system design first filled experts with doubts, and soon it was clear there were huge problems with major structural elements, such as escalator sizes, ceiling designs and ticket counters.

The envisioned opening, a splendid display complete with an appearance from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was canceled just weeks before and morphed into a painful embarrassment for German officials.

The opening date was pushed to 2014, then 2016. A Brandenburg State Audit completed in 2016 concluded that the usability of the airport was at less than 57%. Eventually, officials decided to stop offering an expected date and put the entire project on hold until major overhauls in management and construction could be completed.

Finally, as spending cruised past the 7.3 billion euros mark, the date was pushed to 2020.

“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 will welcome its first passengers on November 1, has a sleek glass facade with modern furniture and polished check-in counters.

The “Magic Carpet,” an installation by US artist Pae White that hangs from the ceiling of the check-in hall, adds a splash of colour.

The overall impression, however, is one of functionality. The walnut paneling feels like a failed attempt to add warmth and belongs more to the 1990s, when plans for the airport were first born. And with no greenery yet to soften the exterior, the building is dark and box-like.
The elevators and escalators feel very narrow, suggesting that not all those design glitches have been successfully ironed out.

Daldrup defends the airport against 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 probably the safest airport of the world because we are so strictly tested, after the disaster 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 times are hard times, but in one or two years we will have a lot of passengers here,” Daldrup tells CNN. “People will enjoy this new modern international 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 help. All the big airlines need help,” 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.

“Everyone knows the capital of Germany needs a good infrastructure for international connectivity,” he says. “We want more flights to the United States, to New York, to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, so many wonderful cities.”

Arguing that the global economy is reliant on said connectivity, he adds “the airport industry, the airports, the airlines, are the backbone of our economic recovery.”

Daldrup claims that the opening of the airport is “a sign 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 be no party.”


See also:

Berlin’s «vomit inducing turn» upsets pilots

4th September 2020

When eastern winds are present, airlines can choose a special take-off route at the new Berlin Airport. At a height of only 600 feet, the aircraft enters a sharp turn. Pilots are not amused.

See earlier:

Berlin Brandenburg airport problem of terminal ceiling being too heavy ….. already years late, hugely over budget

Berlin’s long-delayed Brandenburg airport has suffered another setback after structural flaws were found in the terminal roof.  It appears that the ceiling in the terminal building is too heavy. The airport, which was originally due to open in 2010, is still under construction and has run billions of Euros over budget. It was expected to open in 2017 but that could be postponed even further. The local building authority said it had told the construction firm to “immediately stop building works for the area underneath the entire terminal roof of the BER airport” until security checks could be carried out by engineers. The airport’s CEO has left the company. Earlier this year Air Berlin, which is currently running at a loss, reached a settlement with the airport over the delays as it had planned on making BER its main hub airport. The first problems noted were to do with the smoke and fire detection problem. The proposed solution, (which was not surprisingly rejected) was (paraphrased) for 800 low-paid workers armed with cell phones, sitting on camping stools, armed with thermos flasks, who would take up positions throughout the terminal. If anyone smelled smoke or saw a fire, they would alert the airport fire station and direct passengers toward the exits” The airport’s cost, borne by taxpayers, has tripled to €5.4 billion.


Troubled Berlin Brandenburg Airport, due to open in June 2012, Could be shut down in late summer unless € 1.1 billion is raised

Berlin Brandenburg (BER) Airport What Intended to be a huge new airport for Berlin, as Berlin-Schönefeld and Tegel airports Could close. The BER what INITIALLY due to open in June 2012. It had a catalog of problems with fire safety, smoke extraction system, and fresh air supply in the event of fire. The launch has been delayed and delayed …. Last year it photoshoped what it might open this year. Now the airport’s CEO has announced it is Possible That the construction of the airport may need to be shut down this summer, if A Further € 1.1 billion can not be raised. Some € 4.3 trillion has already been spent, but did only lasts till this summer. Extra costs incurred due to the havebeen late opening, as well as the extra construction costs. A decision on how € 1.1 billion can be raised is needed urgently, Perhaps through bank loans, government grants or from Investor. The money has to not only be agreed by Berlin, Brandenburg and the federal government, so but needs approval from the EU Commission. Current total costs amount to € 5.4 billion.  Additional plans suggest additional costs amounting to € 2.19 billion at Extra. Although the airport has yet to open, Officials are planning a possible third runway for Approximately € 1 trillion and other new projects: such as on additional terminal, expanded baggage system and another freight facility.The total additional spending would amount to € 3.2 billion.



Berlin’s Schönefeld airport ‘to stay open’ as Brandenburg airport (at huge expense) not ready till 2015 at the earliest

Berlin’s old Schönefeld airport is likely to remain open as a destination for budget airlines despite a multi-billion airport being built next to it, at Berlin Brandenburg (BER), as the new international hub is too small.  It is the latest in a long line of setbacks to hit the BER, which is over budget and behind time. It will have two runways.  It is expected to open in 2015 at the earliest.  Officially the cost of the airport is €4.3 billion, though initial cost estimates were €1.2 and it could cost up to €6 billion. Despite the huge cost, the airport will only have a capacity of 27 million passengers a year, so its ageing neighbour, Schönefeld, will need to stay open.  The original plan had been for Schönefeld, which caters for budget airlines, to merge with BER.  Keeping Schönefeld in operation would increase capacity by 7.5 million passengers a year and avoid further costs of building a new terminal. Earlier it had been expected that BER  could be partly in use in 2014, with 10 planes per day, but that will not happen.  The airport was initially intended to open in 2010 but the multiple delays have been due to difficulties concerning fire safety, the smoke exhaust systems and construction errors.  Air Berlin is suing BER for damages due to the much delayed opening.


Further fire safety problems at Berlin Brandenburg Airport mean it cannot open in October, so delayed till unknown date in 2014

January 8, 2013

Berlin’s Brandenburg airport was initially due to open in June 2012. It has problems with fire safety, smoke extraction system, and fresh air supply in the event of fire. Therefore the opening was put off till October 2013. It has now been announced that the airport will now open on an unknown date in 2014. Based on the previous timetable, construction work was due to be completed by May 2013 to allow a 5-month period for trial operations before the official opening. There may be other technical problems as well, such as on baggage handling. When completed, the airport will take over from the ageing Tegel and Schoenefeld airports. It is expected to be able to eventually handle up to 27 million passengers a year, but this figure has been reduced from the initial figure of 45 million. The cost of the project has risen, from an estimated £1.6 billion to more than £3.2 billion and the latest delays are likely to increase the costs further. A growing chorus of critics is calling for the city’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, to step down over the matter.

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Catalogue of delays and problems for the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (Willy-Brandt)

Brandenburg (Willy Brandt) airport has become a symbol of how, even for the remarkably technologically successful Germans, things can go horribly wrong. There is currently no opening date set. It has a range of problems, many caused by such complicated and advanced computer systems and technologies, that engineers cannot work out how to fix them. Thousands of light bulbs illuminate the gigantic main terminal and the car park 24 hours per day, which is a massive cost and waste of energy; officials cannot work out how to turn them off as the computer system that’s so sophisticated it’s almost impossible to operate. Every day, an empty commuter train rolls to the unfinished airport over an 8 km stretch to keep the newly-laid tracks from getting rusty – more waste. Several escalators need to be rebuilt because they were too short; and dozen of tiles were already broken before a single airport passenger ever stepped on them. Then there are the fire system problems – with some technology that is so advanced that technicians can’t work out what’s wrong with it.



Berlin Brandenburg Airport opening date postponed – till March 2013

The new Berlin Brandenburg (Willie Brandt) airport will not now open till March 2013.  It had been due to open in June 2012, and was postponed recently until August 2012.  The problem appears be the fire safety system. The airport can only commence operations with a fully automated fire safety and control system as originally planned, and the interim solution of a partly automated system will not be allowed. This will take until December 2012. In addition, the risk would be too high to move the airport in winter due to adverse weather leading to operational restrictions.  The Managing Director Operations, responsible for the construction of the airport, will have to leave the company. Keeping open the two older Berlin airports that this one will replace will cost about €15 million a month.