The long-awaited Berlin (BER) airport is set to open in October 2020, bosses have announced. But after a series of delays, is this the beginning of the end, or merely the end of the beginning?Anyone under the age of 26 is not as old as the planning and construction process behind the long-awaited but perennially-delayed Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER).
The never-ending story of Berlin’s next airport is a national embarrassment in Germany and has had more false dawns than can scarcely be believed. With the opening date now delayed again until October 2020, we take a look back at some key dates in this extraordinary story.
May 1991: A few months after German unification, a Berlin Brandenburg Airport holding company is set up with a view to planning for the construction of a new airport to serve the German capital.
January 1992: The planning process for the development of the new airport starts in earnest.
June 1996: A site close to the existing Berlin Schönefeld Airport (SXF) is selected as the location for the new airport.
November 2000: After several disputes — and legal proceedings — over which private construction consortium would develop the new airport, a tentative plan was approved by the Berlin Brandenburg Airport holding company. An opening in 2007 is slated cautiously.
May 2003: The Berlin Brandenburg Airport board decides against the privatization process previously approved and agrees to take over the planning and construction process, remaining under the ownership and control of the city of Berlin, the state of Brandenburg and the federal German government.
September 2006: Following disputes with residents, as well as major issues over flawed construction cost calculations, work finally begins on the new airport — fifteen years after first being officially conceived. A new opening date of October 30, 2011 is laid down.
July 2008: Construction work begins on the new terminal building.
June 2010: The Berlin Brandenburg Airport board announces that construction delays and complications mean the October 2011 deadline will not be met. June 3, 2012 is the new deadline.
From delays to disgrace
October 2011: The original deadline passes, with the June 2012 opening date just a few months away.
May 2012: Less than a month before the latest grand opening is due to take place, it is postponed. “Technical difficulties” are cited, with particular concerns over fire safety standards. The director of technical affairs is fired and a new opening date — March 17, 2013 — is announced.
September 2012: Amid further construction fiascos, the opening date is pushed further back to October 27, 2013.
January 2013: A new year, a new opening date. This time, no specific date is announced other than to say the airport will not open until 2014 at the earliest. Klaus Wowereit, then the Berlin mayor, steps down as chairman of the supervisory board while Rainer Schwarz is dismissed as the CEO of Berlin Brandenburg Airport.
New dawn fades
January 2014: Berlin Brandenburg Airport announces that the airport will not open in 2014 – the sixth such about-turn since the original date of October 2011 was penciled in. A month later, Hartmut Mehdorn, the new CEO, admits the airport may not open until 2016.
December 2014: Amid more rows and problems over multiple aspects of construction, doubts are expressed about Mehdorn’s future. A week later, he announces his resignation.
July 2015: Two months after Mehdorn fully stepped down as CEO (replaced by Karsten Mühlenfeld), new Berlin mayor Michael Müller takes over as head of the supervisory board. 2017 is slated as the new year of opening.
August 2015: Allegations of varying forms of corruption related to the entire project begin to surface. Meanwhile, the German branch of Imtech — a technical services company that built heat and smoke vents in the airport which did not meet required standards — files for bankruptcy. Hopes of a 2017 opening recede into the far distance.
“Admit it when something has screwed up”
April 2016: Daniel Abbou, a press spokesman, is fired after saying in an interview: “Believe me, no politician, no airport director, and no one who isn’t dependent on medication, will give you any firm guarantees for this airport. They used to say mostly, no, everything will be fine. That’s bullshit. Admit it when something has screwed up. It’ll all come out anyway.”
December 2016: Several announcements and decisions make it clear that a 2017 opening is not possible, as well as the fact that much necessary corrective work is nowhere near completion.
January 2017: Problems ranging from doors that are not correctly numbered, to lightswitches that can be found, to a roof twice as heavy as it should be mean estimates for the airport’s opening year are pushed back to 2018 or 2019. Two months later, Engelbert Lütke Daldrup is appointed to replace Mühlenfeld.
From airports to metal boxes
November 2017: A report by TÜV, a German technical standards regulator, finds that persistent issues around fire safety standards — widely seen as the cause among causes of the perpetual delays — mean that the airport cannot open until 2021, at the earliest.
December 2017: Daldrup proposes his “BER Lite” vision, which, if approved by the board, would see the airport open with a so-called “soft launch” without the actual terminal building being in use. That scenario would see “industrial pre-fab” metal boxes used to house passengers awaiting flights.