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30 September 2020
In a remarkable story in these troubled times, which has barely been noticed due to the significant effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the aviation industry, the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) will open its gates on 31 October 2020 and is most likely to be oversized at the start of flight operations. Who would have thought that this could happen at the beginning of 2020? This endless story seems to have come to an end, but the future is more than uncertain.
The preparations for the opening have gone well. All required approvals have been granted and there are just a few concerns that the opening will be again delayed. While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted plans for a test-run of the airport, delaying it by six weeks and reducing the number of participants, the test uncovered no technical obstacles similar to those which caused problems in 2012.
In that respect, COVID-19 has had a positive effect as the reduced air traffic caused by the pandemic may actually make a timely opening more likely, since the airport can apply a step-by-step approach and gradually grow and adopt to more conservative growth as expected.
The idea for the airport was originally thought of in 1996, subsequent to the establishment of Berlin as the federal capital of a reunified Germany. Identifying the need for a larger, more modern airport to support the city's new role, officials initiated a joint project between Berlin, Brandenburg State and the German federal government. The airport's proposed location in the south of Berlin, close to the capital, led to protests by residents of the area, causing numerous and lengthy court proceedings.
The cooperation of the three shareholders behind the project has also been a hurdle from the beginning, making it difficult to achieve consent on several aspects. For example, in 2000 the Brandenburg regional court overruled a decision to ban international construction services Hochtief from bidding on the project, leading to a delay in securing financing.
Once under construction, officials announced that the airport would open in October 2011. While this date was eventually pushed back to 2012, it appeared that the opening would in fact take place. At that time, thousands of volunteers participated in a trial of the airport's infrastructure, as airlines and vendors prepared to open operations at BER. The international flight plans of airlines all over the globe had included BER in their flight schedules. Flights to and from the new airport had been bought. However, on 8 May 2012 it was suddenly announced that the opening would be delayed due to technical issues, in particular involving problems with the new fire protection system. This caused major problems within the operating airport entity, as well on the political side. It finally led to the resignation of Klaus Wowereit who had been Berlin's mayor since 2001.
The past six years have seen a series of further challenges, including more technical difficulties as well as corruption investigations and mismanagement. One senior airport official accepted a €150,000 bribe from the firm responsible for building a faulty fire safety system, while many parts of the airport infrastructure were kept running at the taxpayers' expense despite it being closed. This contributed to the costs of the project, which were nearly triple its original €2 billion budget.
However, in late 2019 a new 2020 opening date was finally announced.
Even if BER opens in October 2020 as currently scheduled, the public damage caused by its troubled history will remain. It remains to be seen how the numerous delays have harmed the original idea for the airport given the fact that its infrastructure has already become a bit outdated without ever having been used.
Further, it has become less likely that BER will be able to operate as the envisaged European hub and play a primary role in Europe's aviation sector given Air Berlin's insolvency and the crisis of the aviation industry, especially given the widely held opinion that the current structure is already too small to accommodate Berlin's air traffic once air traffic resumes after the pandemic.
Nevertheless, the new airport will give a big boost to Berlin's transport infrastructure and the local economy.
For further information on this topic please contact Oliver Nissen at Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein by telephone (+49 30 814 59 13 00) or email (email@example.com). The Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein website can be accessed at www.asd-law.com.
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