Berlin airport chief outlines Brandenburg capacity concerns

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Berlin’s airport chief Hartmut Mehdorn has defended the lengthening delays and growing cost of the future Brandenburg hub, with the troubled terminal’s capacity having persistently lagged behind demand since construction began a decade ago.

The terminal will be too small when it opens, Mehdorn indicated in a television interview with German regional broadcaster RBB on 11 March.

The airport will be completed according to its current specification for a capacity of 27 million passengers. But after Berlin’s existing Tegel and Schoenefeld airports served 26 million travellers last year, the volume is set to rise further to “more than 30 million” in 2016 and 35 million in 2020, Mehdorn says.

An opening date remains unclear, but it is now expected that the German capital’s future airport will not be inaugurated before 2016. Air Berlin chief executive Wolfgang Prock-Schauer said earlier this month that it was “safe to say” the airport won’t open in 2015, and that he could only “assume” it would be up and running in 2016.

When construction began in 2004, the terminal design was based on an expected throughput of 15 million passengers, but the capacity was gradually increased with additional airport piers and modules “here and there”, says Mehdorn. Now, the planners are working on different proposals how capacity could be further expanded.

Local media have reported that Mehdorn proposed a continued operation of Schoenefeld’s existing two terminals on the northern perimeter of Brandenburg areal. He says, however, that no decision has yet been made.

Tegel is to be closed six months after the new airport has been inaugurated.

With the terminal’s planned expansion, the construction costs could rise above €5 billion ($6.9 billion), says Mehdorn. As its capacity has doubled, the cost of the new airport would likewise increase twofold, he says. However, the chief executive claims the Brandenburg hub will be among the most reasonably priced international airport projects, once it has been completed.

The gradual growth of the terminal complex has also been the main reason for the inadequate fire-protection system, the primary cause of the failed inauguration in June 2012. The smoke-extraction and fresh air supply systems were not adequately enlarged as the airport grew in size, says Mehdorn.

The airport operator needs to install a completely redesigned smoke-extraction and fresh air supply system in the terminal complex. The work is progressing “step by step”, although this was happening “in some areas not as quickly as we would like”, says Mehdorn.

He cites European regulations, which require construction contracts to be tendered across the EU, as a cause of time-consuming hold-ups.

Meanwhile, plans for a part-opening of the terminal’s northern pier for limited airline operations have been called off. The airport operator had planned to operate a small number flights a day from the pier to test a number of systems, such as the IT network.

However, Mehdorn says that the required investment for the trial could not be secured in time for the planned start in July. “This [test] would not make sense in winter, so we had to call it off,” he says.