Building Berlin′s new airport is a race against time | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 16.06.2011
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Building Berlin's new airport is a race against time

Berlin's new international airport is Eastern Germany's most important infrastructure project. But construction of the massive airport is behind schedule and plagued by controversy.

Construction site at Berlin's new airport

Construction workers have one year to complete the airport

With a surface area the size of 2,000 soccer fields, the Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt is the single most important infrastructure project in eastern Germany.

The transport hub under construction on the outskirts of Berlin is set to open in June 2012. It will replace the capital city's Tegel and Schönefeld airports, as well as the historic Tempelhof airport, which was closed in 2008.

Featuring two parallel runways and 25 jetways arranged around a U-shaped terminal building, the mammoth project has been dogged by controversy since its inception.

Berlin's new airport

Berlin's new airport will be Germany's third-largest

Erich Wurth, of the airport's media relations staff, says he's still impressed by the scale of the construction work, which he's followed since it began. In addition to soon having Germany's third largest airport - after Frankfurt and Munich - Berlin will be home to Europe's most modern airport, he says.

The airport's terminal will have an initial capacity of 27 million passengers per year, according to Wurth. But it can be expanded to a process of 45 million passengers per year, putting it near Frankfurt's capacity.

"When we get close to (capacity), then we can construct satellite modules without interrupting flights and add capacity for another 10 million passengers per module," he told Deutsche Welle.

What's in a name?

Berlin's new airport was initially called Berlin-Brandenburg International, with an international airport code of BBI. But the International Air Transport Association (IATA), already uses that code for India's Biju Patnaik Airport.

So when Berlin's new airport was renamed Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt after former German chancellor, its code was changed to BER. All of its employees now need new business cards, but that's just one of the smaller hiccups affecting the project.

BER sign

Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt (BER) will replace thew city's two active airports

Short on time

While the stereotypical German loves punctuality, Airport Willy Brandt's planned opening date of June 3, 2012 already represents a seven-month delay. Meeting even that deadline is going to be difficult, according to Wurth.

"That's the biggest challenge," he said. "The opening date is set, and there's no turning back."

Some 4,000 people are currently working on the construction site - more than ever before. If the project starts to fall further behind schedule, then a third shift is likely to be introduced.

Roughly 12 million cubic meters of earth have been displaced thus far. Construction has consumed 160,000 cubic meters of cement, along with 40,000 tons of steel.

While the interior of the main terminal is already finished and the luggage sorting system is being tested, other buildings are still rough shells. Construction of a large hotel facility, for instance, is underway day and night.

Finishing touches are still being put on the airport's two-storey jetways, which are designed to increase efficiency by allowing passengers to disembark and board simultaneously.

Aerial view of BER airport

The terminal buidling will have an initial capacity of 27 million passengers per year

Got room for a superjumbo?

One of the jetways at Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt could one day be retrofitted to accommodate the double-decker Airbus A-380 superjumbo. But whether the plane will be seen taxiing around the airport remains to be seen. Airlines only put such large planes on routes when the numbers add up.

"In the case of the A-380, there need to be between 600 and 800 passengers," Wurth said. "And if the bookings aren't in that range, then airlines won't put that type of plane into service."

Reaching those numbers of bookings would require the 2.5-billion-euro airport to serve as many attractive destinations as possible and optimize connection times. If the airport succeeds is becoming an international hub it bring it is expected to create 40,000 jobs in the region.

An Airbus A-380

The new airport can be adapted to accommodate the A-380 superjumbo

Locals protest

Earlier this year, 12,000 citizens turned out to protest against Airport Willy Brandt. They became incensed after the takeoff and landing approach paths were changed in September 2010 to route aircraft over densely populated areas.

The duration of nightly closures, the capacity and expandability of the airport as well as general noise pollution concerns are all points of controversy.

And the protests have been met with some success. In early June, a homegrown commission on airport noise pollution released a report recommending flights be routed around Berlin and Potsdam.


Many local residents oppose the new airport

The German Air Traffic Control Authority and the Federal Supervisory Office for Air Traffic Control, who have the final say in the matter, are expected to make a decision in early 2012.

The first of four airport test runs is scheduled for the same period. Some 10,000 people are being sought for the simulation.

Wurth says he's hoping there won't be any mishaps on June 3, 2012, when the Berlin Bradenburg Airport Willy Brandt will open under the motto: "Ready for takeoff."

Autor: Sabine Kinkartz (gps)
Editor: Sam Edmonds

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