Air Berlin used the occasion of its accession into Oneworld this week to showcase its new home airport – or what will become its home 73 days from now. The new Berlin Brandenburg International airport will finally unify the city’s airport system which has been split across three sites for much of the time since the city’s division after World War II. Unification of Berlin’s airports began with the closure of the iconoic Templelhof airport in October 2008. The second and final stage will come with the closure overnight of the existing Tegel and Schonefeld airports and opening of the the new Brandenburg airport, located next to the old Schonefeld site, on 3 June.
The ceremony was the first such event at the new airport and was marked by a double debut, the first Air Berlin aircraft (an A330-200 and 737-800) at the airport and the first in Oneworld colours.
“It is a great honour for us to be hosting this event. It is the first time aircraft are catered on the new apron,” said Berlin Airports chief executive Rainer Schwartz, joking: “It proves that the concrete is dry.” But, noting the airport will be Oneworld’s third busiest in Europe, he believes the airport provides the opportunity for growth. “With their own pier at BER, we are offering airberlin and oneworld partners first-class travel comfort, everything within easy reach and minimum connecting times.”
Air Berlin chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn also stressed the opportunity. “We are going to develop the new airport into a hub,” he said. “We are waiting for the new airport, we are very confident it will be ready on time. We are confident it will give us the chance for the business to grow.”
Other Oneworld carriers could be tempted in.”I think there is going to be a great opportunity here at Berlin,” said American Airlines chief executive Tom Horton. “It’s certainly something American Airlines is looking at.”
The airport is still a construction site, but all appear confident of meeting its new June opening target (this slipped from an original October 2011 target to ensure security facilities complied with new European Union requirements).
The size of the task, closing down two airports and switching to a new one overnight, is enormous. And great effort is going in to ensure there is no repeat of the operational teething problems that have dogged so many airport openings, not least the high-profile baggage problems at the Heathrow T5 home of Air Berlin’s Oneworld partner British Airways. This work includes a fourth-month testing period with an army of volunteers testing the facilities by simulating the check-in process at the airport, before boarding a bus, and going back round to do it all over again.