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New Berlin Airport Prepares for Take-Off

After years of uncertainty, Berlin has been given the green light to press ahead with the expansion of its Schönefeld airport in the city's east, but opposition to the project remains strong.

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Schönefeld could soon become Berlin's biggest airport

Divided as it was for three decades, Berlin needed more than one airport. Tempelhof city airport, which was built under Hitler, and Tegel, which appeared on the scene in the 1970s catered to the needs of the West, whilst Schönefeld, on the edge of Berlin, served the East. Now the latter, which has a distinctly provincial feel to it, is on track to become a major site for both domestic and international air traffic.

However, the endorsement of the project, which is worth €1.7 billion ($2.07 billion), comes with strict conditions attached. First and foremost are the issues of minimizing sound pollution for local residents, and protecting nature and the environment around the planned site. Between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., only "quiet" aircraft will be allowed to take off or land, sound barriers will have to be erected, and, for the 10,000 trees which will be felled to clear space, 20,000 new ones will have to be planted.

Tag der offenen Tür in Schönefeld

Schönefeld currently serves several low-budget airlines

Matthias Platzeck, state premier of Brandenburg, where Schönefeld is located, welcomed the decision as a "milestone in the implementation of the most important infrastructure project in the region." He said he expected airport to generate many new jobs and create new economic impulses in the region.

Groundswell of complaint

The project, which has been in the workings for the past 13 years, might have cleared the first major hurdle to becoming reality, but there's still a long way to go before building can get underway. The ultimate decision will depend on the outcome of legal proceedings which a residents' movement in Berlin and Brandenburg, BVBB, has promised to launch in opposition to the project. Ten thousand people have already lodged complaints and are prepared to go to court to fight what they consider a ridiculous decision.

"No major airport has been built in such a densely populated area anywhere in the world for the past 30 years," Ferdi Breidbach, chairman of BVBB, told the Der Spiegel newsmagazine.

The class-action suit, which will be dealt at the Federal Constitutional Court in Leipzig, will take between one and two years to process, which means that even if the ruling fell in favor of the new airport, construction couldn't begin until 2006 at the earliest. In any case, that is the planned start date. Germany's Deputy Transport Minister Tilo Braune told the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily he is confident that building will indeed begin on schedule.

Out with the old

Flughafen Tempelhof in Berlin Empfangshallle

Tempelhof: What will become of the building is not yet clear

Regardless of the way forward for Schönefeld, Berlin is already poised to lose one of its three airports. Tempelhof, which sits snugly between houses in the heart of the city, will watch the last plane soar to the skies from its runway at the end of October. Constructed under Hitler, the imposing building is under historical protection and, as such, will remain standing. But as yet there's no consensus on its future use.

As for Tegel, which presently deals with the majority of the German capital's international air traffic, current plans predict that it should close its doors forever in 2010. But there's a long way to go until then, and there could be some vigorous pockets of turbulence en-route.

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