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Ex-Rolls Royce exec to run 'new' Berlin airport

February 20, 2015

Rolls-Royce is better known for jet engines than airport administration, yet a former executive, Karsten Mühlenfeld, is to take charge of the new Berlin BER hub. Terminally delayed, can he get it open?

Karsten Mühlenfeld
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Bernd Settnik

The airport's supervisory board on Friday agreed that Mühlenfeld would take over the leadership of the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport, albeit by no means unanimously. Control of the supervisory board for the state-run project is split between the city state of Berlin, the state of Brandenburg, and the German federal government. Berlin and Brandenburg preferred Mühlenfeld as a candidate, while the national government was understood to have concerns about the former Rolls-Royce manager's lack of experience in the airport industry.

Of the 15 voting seats, Berlin and Brandenburg hold the majority, with eight spots combined. The second-in-command of the supervisory board, Rainer Bretschneider, said after the vote that the decision was reached by a "large majority."

Hauptstadtflughafen Berlin Brandenburg BER in Schönefeld
Largely complete, yet still delayed, the airport's currently set for a 2017 inaugurationImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Speaking on regional public television, RBB, Mühlenfeld said that he regretted not having won the support of all involved, before adding: "Fundamentally, I do not believe that this poses a problem." Over the long term, he said he was confident of strong cooperation with all the stakeholders.

Brandenburg's state premier, Dietmar Woidke, admitted that there had been disagreements over the new airport head, but voiced his personal approval, saying the project needed "somebody with the requisite perserverance."

Mühlenfeld is scheduled to take over the role by June at the latest, after current head Hartmut Mehdorn steps down. Mehdorn announced he would be leaving his post, after less than two years in the job, last December.

'We have one interest ... that flights finally get started'

Most recently, Mehdorn announced that the repeatedly-delayed airport should open in the second half of 2017. It was initially scheduled to start operations in late 2011, replacing the existing Schoenefeld and Tegel airports in Berlin. Estimates on the total costs of the project to date have reached 5.4 billion euros (currently $6.16 billion), more than double what was initially planned.

Großflughafen BER
Among the issues adding to the project's cost and duration are fire response, noise pollution complaints, and corruption questionsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Mühlenfeld, 51, has spent much of his career with Rolls-Royce, most recently as the company's top executive for Germany. He left the car and jet engine manufacturer in 2014 to join Canadian company Bombardier, working with their German outpost which focuses on train and transportation technologies.

Berlin's mayor Michael Müller also acknowledged some debate about appointing Mühlenfeld, but said that the two regional governments were looking for a candidate who was a "communicator," able to portray the project in a more positive public light after years of critical coverage.

"We have one interest: that now, finally, the airport is completed and that flights start running," Müller said.

msh/rc (dpa, Reuters)

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