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Aviation: Lufthansa CEO wants changes in Berlin

Last week the German press reported that Carsten Spohr, the chairman and CEO of Lufthansa, wants Berlin Tegel Airport to remain operational after the much-delayed completion of the city's Brandenburg gateway. Spohr said his airline would keep pressing for improvements to what he called the “untenable situation” at Tegel, which opened in the 1960s and was slated to close in 2012 following the opening of the city's new airport.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has suggestd Tegel Airport should remain open after Brandenburg is completed. (Ralf Roletschek)

However, Spohr's idea is problematical because statutes require Tegel (BER) to be closed 180 days after Brandenburg opens. It would require major changes in legislation to enable the existing airport in the northwest of the city to remain operational. Plans envisaged the infrastructure would be reused for government flights, enabling the existing VIP fleet to be moved from Cologne / Bonn Airport to the capital. However, Berlin's two existing airports - Tegel and Schönefeld (SXF) - are currently handling in excess of 34m passengers per annum which is well above the design-capacity of Brandenburg.

Given the latest challenge from Spohr, its worth The Aviation Oracle reviewing the Brandenburg project and highlighting just some of the things that have gone wrong.


Work on the site of Brandenburg / Willy Brandt Airport started in 2006 with completion scheduled for 2012. It was built on a site adjacent to Schönefeld and utilises one of the existing airport's two runways - the second airstrip at SXF was closed and has been replaced with another brand new runway to enable parallel arrivals and departures.

Berlin Brandnburg Willy Brandt Airport looks complete, but the appearance is only skin deep. (FBB)

A string of problems have dogged the project, and opening is currently scheduled for late 2020. Meanwhile, costs have spiraled upwards from around €2bn, with current estimates pointing to the total being likely to reach €7.3bn or more. The first indications of trouble came in 2010 when the original opening in October 2011 was pushed back into June 2012, due to the bankruptcy of the contruction planning company Planungsgemeinschaft Berlin-Brandenburg International. Then, less than a month before the German Chancellor was due to open the facilities, the date slipped again. Inspectors had found major deficiencies in the airport's fire detection system which had to be rectified and set the target for completion back to 2013. In 2014 it was revealed that the chief planner for the fire protection system was not a qualified engineer. At one time, officials were unable to turn off the lighting

There were also concerns that there were insufficient check-in desks to handle demand, and the authorities proposed using tents to accommodate the overflow until further facilities could be built. Then it was discovered that 90,000m of wiring were not up to specification and the fire doors did not function correctly. The smoke extraction and sprinkler systems did not work, and a replacement venting system that was to be installed on the roof of the terminal was found to be too heavy to be supported safely. Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg (FBB) proposed to station hundreds of staff around the building to open fire doors and exhaust smoke as the automated systems would not do so.

Among more bizarre developments, in 2016 allegations were made that a whistle blower who highlighted corruption associated with the installation of the airports heating, plumbing and ventilation systems had his coffee poisoned. Meanwhile other systems have aged and failed. More than 700 flight information display screens have already had to be replaced because the original devices have burned out. Some escalators are too short and steps have had to be installed at the tops or bottoms creating problems for persons of reduced mobility. The underground metro rail system is directly connected to the main halls in the terminal and trains could create substantial drafts and increase the risk of fire spreading.

Originally both BER and SXF were expected to close once the new facilities were completed. However, Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg has more recently proposed to continue using some parts of SXF. Extensions to the original footprint of Brandenburg are already being developed to enable it to cope with demand. While remedial work continues, the cost of maintaining the facilities - including cleaning, heating, electricity supply - is estimated at €8-€10m per month. As recently as last October reports suggested another €1bn would be needed to complete the airport.

Some doubts remain

Some observers still challenge the latest proposed opening date in October 2020. The authorities claim the target is realistic despite there being a "variety of defects" including power, security and wiring. Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, head of the committee running the construction, told a government hearing that: "All the experts tell me there are no shortcomings at BER Airport we can’t fix. I am convinced that BER will be put into operation in October 2020."

The unused facilities are scheduled to open in October 2020. (FBB)

Rainer Bretschneider, chairman of the supervisory board, added: "I am convinced of the validity of the current planning. Now it will be important to implement the planning properly and purposefully. It's about winning back lost trust."

However, last year Lufthansa executive and head of Eurowings said: “My prognosis: the thing will be torn down and built anew.”

The city's residents have also called for Tegel to remain open, serving as a smaller 'downtown' airport for business travellers similar to London City. Ironically Berlin used to have a true downtown airport - the historic Tempelhof - but it was closed in 2008 to make way for a park.

Text © The Aviation Oracle. Pictures © FBB.

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