Berlin delays June opening of new airport
BERLIN – Officials have canceled next month's planned opening of Berlin's new airport, saying it will take at least until August before all necessary fire safety checks have been completed.
The delay is an embarrassment for planners and authorities in the German capital, who had hoped the June 3 opening of the Willy Brandt Airport — named after the former West Berlin mayor and later chancellor — would mark another chapter in the reunification of the formerly divided city.
The €2.5-billion ($3.3-billion) project is meant to replace Berlin's two aging airports, Tegel and Schoenefeld, which belonged to West and East Germany respectively.
The new airport operator's managing director, Rainer Schwarz, said all flights booked for the period after June 3 will take place, but passengers will have to travel to the old airports instead.
"I won't hide the fact that I'm really angry," said Matthias Platzeck, the governor of Berlin's neighboring state of Brandenburg, where the new airport is located.
Platzeck vowed to investigate why information about the delay was revealed only weeks before the first flights were due to take off, and with a huge opening party already planned.
Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said the delay "will cost money" but declined to put a price tag on it, saying it was first necessary to discuss the matter with all companies and airlines involved.
Carriers expressed annoyance at the delay Tuesday.
"We want a reliable new opening date," said Lufthansa spokesman Thomas Jachnow.
The German airline is already in talks with Berlin's northern airport Tegel to discuss how it can operate all flights offered in its summer timetable, he said.
Air Berlin, a low-cost carrier that currently operates the most flights to and from the capital, said the delay would cause "huge logistical problems" and additional costs for all involved.
Meanwhile, Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper reminded its readers that the city has braved worse aeronautical problems in the past.
"If there's one big city in the world that can survive being cut off from the outside world then it's Berlin," the paper said, citing the 1948-1949 Soviet air blockade of the city that was overcome through a massive airlift of goods by Allied forces.
Once it is opened, the new airport will be able to process 27 million passengers annually, later expanding to 45 million passengers a year.
Juergen Baetz contributed to this report.