Voters to decide future of Tempelhof

 - September 26, 2007, 6:33 AM

The fate of Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport is in the hands of local voters, who on October 17 can cast ballots in favor of keeping the historic downtown gateway open. No fewer than 170,000 pro-Tempelhof votes will be needed to force a full public referendum on the issue next year, with the outcome to be determined by majority (provided at least 25 percent of registered voters cast a ballot).

City officials have been trying to close Tempelhof for the past decade to force operators to relocate operations to the new Berlin-Brandenburg International (BBI) Airport being developed on the site of the existing Schoenefeld Airport. Tempelhof lies right at the heart of the German capital; the Schoenefeld site is about 13 miles to the southeast of the city.

Under current plans, Tempelhof would have to close in October next year. BBI is due to open in 2011. According to the Association of German Regional Airports, the airport will have insufficient capacity from its opening day. The group is backing a campaign led by the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) to keep Tempelhof open to provide capacity for corporate/private aircraft and regional airline services.

EBAA held a special business aviation summit at Tempelhof on September 13, taking the opportunity to argue the case with local and national politicians. Several influential figures have backed the case for keeping Tempelhof open, and in a preliminary poll last year some 30,000 voters supported a motion to take the issue to the next stage of Germany’s complex public referendum process.

“Most executives cite close proximity to a city center as the number-one reason for flying business aviation,” said EBAA president Brian Humphries. “With Tempelhof being just a ten-minute drive to downtown Berlin, it is ideally situated to attract both business aviation and high-value point-to-point airline traffic. And in Europe it has been proven again and again that where business aviation is given sufficient access, local economies benefit immensely.”

Berlin city officials want to stop flying at Tempelhof–scene of the 1948 Berlin Air Lift–even though the airport buildings are protected and cannot be demolished.
According to Andreas Peter, CEO of air-taxi operator Bizair, unofficial polls have shown 70 percent local backing for keeping flying at Tempelhof. However, the official voting process requires residents to cast their votes at their city halls, a requirement that could prove to be impractical for many people.

German Business Aviation Association president Dr. Bernd Gans told attendees at the EBAA summit that, with the city’s Tegel Airport also due to close, Tempelhof is Berlin’s only alternative source of aviation capacity.