May 21, 2012
Credit: Photo Credit: DICK LAUBNER/FLUGHAFEM BERLIN BRANDE
Airport operator Berliner Flughaefen told affected airlines that it will not keep the June 3 opening date for Berlin Brandenburg International. Now airlines are struggling with the consequences.
With less than three weeks to go before the planned transfer, airlines have to move back much of what they already transported to BER (the airport's new three-letter code) to Tegel and Schoenefeld, the city's two existing airports that were about to be closed. The airlines also have to decide how to operate their much-expanded schedules out of a cramped Tegel for several months. With operators claiming damages, the airport company is facing a multimillion-euro bill to compensate them for the losses. March 17, 2013, is now foreseen as the new opening date.
Berliner Flughaefen CEO Rainer Schwarz, who is facing calls to resign, says the delay is linked to the fact that the terminal's fire-protection system appears not to be ready and cannot be guaranteed to function properly in time. Further testing is needed to ensure that everything works properly, he says, while not specifying how extensive the delay would be.
Lufthansa argues that the move to BER should not happen before mid-April 2013. Air Berlin CEO Hartmut Mehdorn says the new date is “completely unacceptable.” He says a delay of a few months would have been manageable, but pushing the opening back by almost one year is a huge blow for the airline, which has the largest market share in Berlin.
Airlines doubt that fire protection has been the only issue. “We have had to realize over the past few days and weeks, and after several tests, that there is a need to act on several fronts,” Lufthansa states. Company sources say the carrier also is unhappy with the state of check-in facilities.
Airline officials say there are too few check-in desks. Tests with volunteers showed that the likely passenger throughput was half of what it should have been in process planning. But it is difficult to add more desks in the terminal, regardless of the delay. The airport already decided to set up temporary tent-like structures with additional check-in facilities and assured Lufthansa, Air Berlin and EasyJet—the airport's three main carriers—that they would be accommodated in the main building.
But other carriers could be forced to channel their passengers through the temporary halls. It is unclear how that problem will be resolved.