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Berlin Air Show stars new aircraft at fresh site

Billed to be the biggest event of the aviation industry this year, Berlin's ILA 2012 showcases the latest in aircraft technology. The air show's new location, however, is making for a bumpy ride.

On the newly-built southern runway of Berlin's Schönefeld Airport, an olive-painted army helicopter slowly rolled into parking position, lining up next to a group of fighter jets from the German Federal Armed Forces and the United States Air Force.

Schönefeld Airport's southern runway is part of the German capital's new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport (BER) - the location of the ILA Air Show, and one which ILA Security Chief Jürgen Freytag didn't expect to remain officially closed for public air traffic this September. (ILA stands for "international air and space exhibition," in German.)

a sign prohibiting access to a building site

BER was planned to be opened in April 2012, but much of it is still under construction

After authorities last week decided to postpone the opening of BER until October 2013 due to major construction flaws, ILA organizers needed special permission to get the air show off the ground this year.

Calling it a "challenge" to make the southern runway fully operational specifically for the ILA 2012, Freytag said that authorities had to request extensive safety precautions, including measures to prevent flight accidents with birds, as well as proof that the fences were safe.

"ILA is now officially operating the southern part of the new BER Airport," Freytag told DW.

Back to building business soon

ILA's permission is only temporary, and will expire on September 16 after the air show has ended.

In what ILA is considering a first test of its future location, the sprawling 250,000-square-meter (2.7 million-sqare-foot) Airport ExpoCenter is showcasing 270 state-of-the-art aircraft, including the world's biggest passenger planes, made by Boeing and Airbus.

About 1,200 exhibitors from 40 countries have been drawn to the most important aviation industry event of the year. After the international air shows in Le Bourget, France, and Farnborough, Great Britain, ILA is the world's third-largest aviation trade fair.

However, the air show in Berlin is more of an industry showcase than a genuine trade fair aimed at striking big deals, ILA Director Stefan Graves told DW. Aviation and space technology deals require "long preparation," Graves explained - although these might be publicly unveiled at an air show for dramatic effect.

However, he added that medium- and smaller-sized businesses represented at ILA were, indeed, able to sign one or another quick contract on the side.

Ramstein revisited

military fighter jet

The "Eurofighter" is a highlight of the ILA Air Show

As in previous years, an extensive flight program is part of the ILA 2012. This time, pilots from German, Polish, Finnish and the Turkish air forces are scheduled to present their flying skills.

But stunt flying with jet-propelled aircraft is generally forbidden in Germany, after a catastrophic accident at the United States' Airbase in Ramstein killed scores of visitors in 1988.

What visitors see at ILA 2012 won't be stunt flying, ILA Flight Program Director Wolfram Cornelius told DW.

"Rather, we are showing military formation flights, which are part of the pilots' basic military training," he said.

Despite the absence of risky flying maneuvers, the Berlin Air Show 2012 is expecting more than 200,000 visitors, Cornelius added.

High-flying industry

Despite the eurozone debt crisis, aircraft manufacturers' order books are full as air traffic booms. In recent years, passenger numbers have grown 5 percent annually.

Industry heavyweights Boeing and Airbus are among those profiting most from the boom.

Demand is not only rising for new aircraft, but they are also expected to be quieter and more fuel-efficient. British jet builder MTU aims to meet the new challenges with its "jet engine of the future," exhibited at the ILA 2012.

jet engine

Demands for efficient engines are an industry challenge

The new jet engine was able to lower noise pollution by half, said MTU spokeswomen Melanie Wolf, and could be used in the new Airbus A320neo plane by 2015. In addition, the engine would lower carbon dioxide emissions, as well as fuel consumption by 15 percent, she told DW.

"In a second phase, we aim for 20 percent savings, and hope to boost this to 30 percent by 2035," she added.

From outer space to the middle of the road

Latest space technology is also being displayed at the ILA's Space Pavilion, where the German Research Center for Aeronautics (DLR), is, for example, showing a four-wheel robot. Equipped with cameras and sensors, it can move around by itself, including sideways like a crab.

The mobile robot was the result of research for future commercial application, DLR researcher Andreas Schütz told DW.

"Our aim is to translate basic space technology research into applications that can be used on earth," he said. DLR would build such "technology carriers" to help improve traffic or promote the development of electric cars, for example.

Schütz noted that it was well imaginable that vehicles similar to DLR's mobile robot could one day become a common sight in street traffic.

In addition to space vehicles, the ILA's Space Pavilion is presenting major German and European space projects, highlighting their significance to human life in general - and trying to convince taxpayers that space technology is a wise investment.

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