Berlin's long-delayed airport has a new opening date, operators announced on Friday, following a series of scandals involving corruption and shoddy design. The problem-plagued project has become something of a laughing stock throughout Germany, particularly considering the country's reputation for efficiency.
BER was originally supposed to open in March 2011, the first of 10 planned starting dates that thus far have expired. Its initial budget was €2.83 billion ($3.1 billion), which has since skyrocketed to over €7 billion.
After nearly 15 years of planning, construction began in 2006, with the airport known as Berlin Brandenburg or the Willy Brandt Airport slated to replace the German capital's aging smaller airports, Tegel and Schönefeld, which were once the main hubs of the former West Berlin and East Berlin respectively.
Some of the major hurdles BER has faced:
- In 2010, the construction planning company went bankrupt, causing major delays to the structure's completion.
- Beginning in 2012, it became obvious that there were major issues with the airport's fire protection and alarm system, which has continued to be the most major construction issue to date. This year, the operators also had to announce that they had already gone a third over budget.
- By 2014, increasing traffic to Berlin's two existing airports made it clear that BER would immediately be operating at total capacity upon opening, prompting a need for future redesigns before it even opened.
- In 2015, a former BER operator was convicted of accepting bribes from Imtech, the company that had built the fire protection system.
- Last year, safety-testing firm TÜV found over 800 wiring violations still remaining on the site.
Lufthansa, which is set to be the second-largest carrier at BER, welcomed the announcement as a "positive signal," saying that the airport operators had made a firm promise.
Airport chief Engelbert Lütke Daldrup said he was certain the first planes would land there on October 31, 2020, and the first departures would take place the following day. However, Supervisory Board Chairman Rainer Bretschneider said there were still "shortcomings" that needed to be addressed quickly in order to meet this target.
Daldrup did not comment on the closure of Tegel Airport, which is considered the final phase of BER's opening, and should take place about a week later.