What's Going on With Berlin's New Airport?

German efficiency has flown out the window in the country's capital

Berlin Brandenburg Airport
••• Berlin's new airport hasn't changed a lot since this 2012 construction photo. Berlin-Airport.de

If you've flown to or through Berlin in the past couple years, you've likely found yourself at Tegel Airport. Although conceived as an ultra-efficient, passenger-friendly terminal when it was built in the years following WWII, Tegel is utterly incompatible with the needs of modern travelers, to say nothing of how great a percentage of its already limited space today's security infrastructure occupies.

How un-German!

To be sure, in true German fashion, local authorities began planning for a single new Berlin airport to replace the city's aging existing ones (the monstrosities of Schönefeld and Tempelhof, in addition to Tegel) soon after German reunification, a site having been chosen way back in 1996.

Shockingly—at least, if you've come to expect efficiency and expediency on behalf of the Germans—it took until 2006 to break ground on the new Berlin airport, known as Berlin Brandenburg International or BBI, with a projected opening date sometime in 2010.

So why, a couple weeks short of 2016, is the new airport nowhere near opening? Oh scheiße, it's a complicated story!

Financial Dilemmas

Germans are not only known for their efficiency but also their financial prowess, which makes the first element of BBI's repeated delays all the more confounding. There are two main pillars on which these difficulties rest.

The first was the long fight to determine where the new Berlin airport would be a public or private entity, a battle that stalled the process for four years, from 1999 to 2003. Once construction began, costs began to exponentiate past their initial projections, which not surprisingly placed incredible stress on the company, consider that the "public" camp won the aforementioned feud.

 

Construction Woes

The saga of BBI has not only thrown out the window long-held assumptions about German efficiency and monetary nimbleness, but also their engineering.

Specifically, construction woes at Berlin's new airport focused around the airport's fire alarm and protection infrastructure, which did not comfort to regulations. Airport construction managers claim that this was a mistake, but deeper investigation has shown it was a conscious choice for design purposes.

The worst part is that this issue will not only need to be rectified before the new Berlin airport can open, but the repair itself must be re-examined to make sure it meets spec. Ah, there's that trademark German efficiency!

Indeed, while this was a seemingly minor mistake, the bureaucratic machinery of working past it not only created additional delays in and of itself, but further compounded the financial ruin of the public company managing the airport's construction, creating a veritable double whammy for poor BBI.

To make matters even worse, Berlin's airport authority had authorized the closure of Tempelhof back in 2008, which means that Berlin's other two airports (which have been inefficient for decades, even on their best days), have continued to be pushed far past their limits since then.

Obviously their design, especially that of Tegel, doesn't help matters, but it's a matter of simple mathematics.

So, When Will the New Berlin Airport Open?

That's the worst part: No one knows, exactly. The latest official answer? "The second half of 2017." Unofficially, the German media has speculated a realistic opening won't occur before 2018 or even 2019, nearly 30 years after the airport was a twinkle in the eye of the newly-reunified German nation.

Indeed, by 2013 the airport had missed four concrete opening dates, which may be one reason why authorities are reluctant to provide anything other than general information. Until then, you'll have to daydream about a highly functional Berlin airport the next time you fly through Tegel or Schönefeld, or bypass Berlin entirely by taking an ICE train to the far-superior—and, let's face it—far more German—airports in Munich and Frankfurt.