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Date set for long-delayed opening of new Berlin airport

Since ground was first broken in 2006, almost everything that could go wrong with Europe's largest airport project has gone wrong. But now planners have said Berlin's new airport will be ready to "fly" in three years.

Following a board meeting of Berlin's BER Airport project company on Friday, the company's vice president, Rainer Bretschneider, said the German capital's new airport would be opened "in the second half of 2017."

The BER board had approved a plan by Chief Executive Hartmut Mehdorn to finish construction and start operating the airport by then, Bretschneider said.

"We are determined to complete the project. We want the airport to fly," he added.

Mehdorn, who took over as BER Airport CEO in 2013

after the project had been

delayed for a fourth time

, described the new deadline as a piece of "happy and good news." He also said that the company had the project "under control" now.

Watch video 03:56

An endless debacle at the BER airport

Butt of many jokes

Originally, Berlin's new airport, officially called Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport, was due to start operating in 2011. However,

a series of technical flaws

has caused the airport opening to be postponed four times - so far.

The most serious problem is the airport's faulty fire protection system. The ventilation system still does not work, and its flaw is fairly basic: Unlike in other major projects, the architects had planned to funnel smoke - which usually rises - underneath the airport's halls. It recently emerged that the chief planner for the fire protection system was not a qualified engineer, but rather a technical draftsman.

Apart from the cock-up in the design of the fire protection system, other major problems and mistakes have been discovered. The list of specific flaws discovered by engineering inspectors when they took a closer look a couple of years ago was discouragingly long.

A few examples: The ducts through which cables are routed are dangerously over-burdened, with too many cables crowded together. There aren't enough check-in counters and luggage retrieval systems. The IT system cooling units are too weak, creating a risk of overheating and emergency shut-offs.

As a consequence of the delays, Berlin's airport planners became the butt of many jokes, and not a little resentment, for putting Germany's reputation for engineering prowess at risk. On social networks around the world, Germany has been ridiculed for not being able to finish one simple airport.

In that light, it will be very welcome if the most recently announced opening-date for BER proves to be the final word.

uhe/nz (dpa, Reuters)

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