Berliners have been waiting for fourteen years! On October 31, the new Willy-Brandt International Airport, also known by the acronym BER (Berlin Brandenburg Airport) will finally come into operation. It will replace the two current airports, Tegel, the former main airport in West Berlin, and Schönefeld, the former airport in the capital of the German Democratic Republic, of which it is an extension.
“Berlin and Germany were the laughing stock of everyone”
If all goes well … Launched in 2006, the new airport should have entered service in 2012. But a few weeks before its inauguration, everything was canceled due to malfunctions of the fire protection system. Since then, the problems have multiplied, between new breaches and suspicions of corruption. And the budget has exploded from 2.7 to 5.96 billion euros.
“The road which led to this opening was not easy”, recognizes Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, Chairman of Berlin Airports Brandenburg. “Berlin and Germany as a whole have been the laughing stock of everyone. We German engineers were ashamed (…). Therefore, there will be no big party. We will simply open ”, he launched this week. Neither drums nor trumpets then, but a series of life-size tests to make sure everything works.
9,000 extras mobilized
Since the spring, 9,000 extras have taken part in these tests. “I wanted to be among the first to enter this airport. We’ve been waiting for it for so long ”, explains Kay Rübbenstahl, 24 years old. Like the 400 other volunteers of the day, this Berliner was given a fictitious script, a precise number of bags and two itineraries to be carried out during the day.
“I take a plane to Southampton and come back from Kitillä, in Lapland”, he recounts. Above him, a huge red metal structure, in the shape of a wave, adorns the upper part of the departure hall. “I like the building, with its wooden counters. There are also more checkpoints than I imagined. However, the screens are too small. They date from the failed 2012 inauguration, right? “, he jokes.
Barely ten million passengers expected
For airport officials, the last few weeks before the official opening are crucial. “We can adjust things thanks to the return of the volunteers”, explains Roland Böhm, the project director.
Ironically, this brand new airport will begin operating during the worst crisis the airline industry has known since 1945. “ It is tragic to open in such a context ”, recognizes Roland Böhm. “Last year 36 million passengers used the two airports of Tegel and Schönefeld. This year, they will be barely 10 million ”, he recalls.
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The economic consequences are being felt, with the elimination of 400 of the 2,200 jobs that the new airport was supposed to have and an extension of 260 million euros from the city-state of Berlin, the Land of Brandenburg and the State federal. “We are concerned that we will not return to our 2019 passenger levels before 2024”, confirms Engelbert Lütke Daldrup. Consequently, the question of the capacity of the BER no longer arises in such a glaring way. Faced with the tourist boom experienced by the German capital until then, the new terminal was considered too small even before it opened.
Seven international connections
For management, however, we must think about the future. “The BER can do more”, Judge Engelbert Lütke Daldrup. The president of the company Berlin Airports Brandenburg regrets that the capital only offers seven international long-distance connections, against a hundred for the airports in the west of Munich and Frankfurt.
“If you compare European capitals, we are among the smallest and most insignificant airports in terms of flight availability”, he adds, calling on the transport ministry to renegotiate the distribution of long-haul flights in favor of the capital. According to him, “A small dose of justice would be welcome, thirty years after reunification”.