Berlin's New Airport Opens after Years of Delays

 - November 3, 2020, 11:44 AM
A320neos from Lufthansa and easyJet get water salutes as the first aircraft arrivals at Berlin's new Brandenburg Airport which opened on an overcast Oct. 31, nine years delayed, and billions over budget. (Photo: Flughhafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH)

Nearly a decade after it was initially slated to open, Berlin’s new Brandenburg Airport (BER) finally made its operational debut on Saturday with the landing of its first two aircraft. A subdued opening ceremony attended by the CEOs of easyJet and Lufthansa; Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, the head of airport operator Flughhafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH; and government officials, was held in Terminal 1. The first departure from the airport, an easyJet flight to London Gatwick, took place the following day.

BER, which covers 3,632 acres, was built around and eventually engulfed Schöenefeld Airport, which is now known as Terminal 5. While those first flights at Brandenburg used the former 1960s-era Schöenefeld runway that has been renovated and lengthened to 12,000 feet, a new 13,000-foot “southern runway” will begin service this week. While the two runways are parallel to each other, they are separated by more than 6,000 feet, ensuring simultaneous arrivals and departures can take place. As such, Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), the German air navigation service provider is mandating that aircraft landing in parallel on the northern and southern runways must maintain different altitudes when turning on to final approach. Aircraft heading for the northern runway will make a turn on to final approach at an altitude of 1,200 to 1,500 metres, while aircraft landing on the southern runway turn at an altitude of around 900 metres. "This ensures sufficient spacing even in the unlikely event that an aircraft deviates from its route when turning on to final approach," said DFS COO Dirk Mahns.

The new airport was originally conceived more than three decades ago in the aftermath of the reunification between the then-East and West Germanys. Construction on the airport began in 2006, with an initially anticipated debut in 2011, but with its opening date slipping half a dozen times for a variety of reasons—including the failure of critical fire protection infrastructure—and its cost ballooning to billions over budget, BER had become a source of national embarrassment.

The long-anticipated opening of Brandenburg as the aviation gateway to the German capital region seals the end for nearby Tegel Airport, which will close on November 7. All of Tegel's flight operations will transition to the new airport, which can handle approximately 40 million passengers a year.

“Today, the world is looking at BER, an airport that has been a source of great emotion for all of us in recent years,” noted Andreas Scheuer, the country’s Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Intrastructure, at Saturday’s opening ceremony. “I hope that it will now quickly win the hearts of the people just as Tegel had a firm place in the hearts of Berliners for decades. As minister of transport, it is my aim to see BER become an international hub.”

In addition to highway connections, the airport also features a six-track railway station located under Terminal 1. It is expected that two-thirds of the passengers will reach the airport by train.