Topic of the Week: Berlin Airport’s Big Delay


With less than a month to go before Berlin’s new airport opening, it was revealed that it wasn’t ready to go. The delay is now rumored to stretch into 2013. This is hugely problematic since the new airport was replacing two separate airports with much greater capacity. Air Berlin and Lufthansa had ramped up their operation significantly and now they’re going to have to backtrack on that. How bad is it? Discuss.

27 comments on “Topic of the Week: Berlin Airport’s Big Delay

  1. The official reason given for Brandeburg’s opening being delayed from June 2012 to March 2013 was just fire / smoke safety systems not working correctly. It seems that rather more systems are not yet ready.

    At Schonefeld, it’s not really much of an issue. Same runway remains in place. Same number of airlines. Same number of flights. The only possible thing is that because Brandendburg shares a runway with Schoenefeld, they might want to do testing of some systems with that runway, but the problems discussed seem to be based around Brandenburg’s terminal instead

    On Tegel, rather more of a problem !
    Lufthansa are making noises saying that they are not going to just cancel a swathe of new flights – they want to squeeze some of them into Tegel. Presumably Air Berlin will try the same trick.
    How do you squeeze more aircraft and more flights into an airport that’s already running well above its design capacity, and start allowing the possibility of more connections in an airport that was never really designed to be a hub ?

    Oh yeah – and some of the equipment that was at Tegel has been moved to Brandenburg for testing, so everything, e.g. aircraft push back, takes that bit longer at Tegel.

    Can only guess that Tegel is to be avoided on peak days this summer.

    The other issue, is that as part of the closure of Schoenefeld + Tegel and their replacement with Brandenburg, the licence of Tegel to operate was set to expire on 31 December 2012. How feasible is it to legally extend the airport licence to March 2013 ? If a German judge can ban night cargo flights at Frankfurt, then the ‘for the economic good of the region’ argument doesn’t necessarily win.

    1. I flew out of Schoenefeld in March, and they are using both of the Brandenburg runways at this point, not sure if there are some more advanced systems they need to test, but for CAT I landings, they were both up and running. This might be a potential solution for Lufthansa or Air Berlin, they wouldn’t be able to have connecting traffic, but they could route some O&D flights there…

    1. ATH was actually built by a consortium led by Germany´s Hochtief;)

      The problem in BER is rather the messy local politics and hard to meet goals they keep setting (and not meeting). It seems they had a climate in which bearer of bad news had to fear for their jobs or contracts so everyone just stayed quiet and waited for the whole thing to blow up.

      Naturally, it´s quite an embarrassing episode for all involved, mostly for Berlin (and it´s supercharged ego), which already called it “Europe`s new major hub” . And then, LH and AB not only have the flights planned, at least LH set up a new crew base with special contracts (less pay, generally, than the standard LH crews) for the BER operation. Since they have the cost running, they´ll have to try to utilize as much as possible of that.

      It should be interesting who will end up paying for all the extra cost and how many lawsuits it will take.

  2. “new airport was replacing two separate airports with much greater capacity”

    So the new airport is replacing two separate which have much great capacity?

    Or you suck at grammar and make the sentence ambiguous? English, learn it.

    1. Why would you ever write so such an awful thing? How good is your German grammar? Is it absolutely unambiguous?

      David’s post was hugely informative — and yours was embarrassing for you.

  3. It’s better, in my opinion, to have things sorted out than risk a Heathrow T5 month or a Denver International baggage claim issue for.. umm.. hey at least it’s fixed now.

    It does call into question the project management though. They had to know they were missing milestones and targets, or if they didn’t they failed spectacularly as project managers. I can’t wait to see the article on this in a future issue of the Project Management Institute Magazine. It will be an interesting read I’m sure.

  4. Heads will be rolling over this. A short delay would have been ok as things do happen, but that long a delay is outragous.

    While you want everything to work and be safe, it’s hard to believe at the last minute they find out everything isn’t.

    More should come out of this once high ranking (and embarassed) officials start getting involved and demanding a reason why this is happening.

    The world is now laughing at Germany.

  5. Well, I wouldn’t go that far and call it German inefficiency. It is a big deal and a huge problem, but if one wants to nail it, it should be called “Berlin inefficiency” or “that is so typical for the German capital”. There are so many things going south here in Berlin, which makes it hard for me to name all of them here inside Cranky’s blog. That new airport is just the tip of the iceberg…

    Right from the start the plans for the new BER airport made it clear, that one will divide the country. And boy, it does… Fly to London, Paris, New York or Chicago – All of the cities have several airports that give you many opportunities to get your butt inside the seat of an major airline, which will fly you everywhere you want.
    Unfortunately politicians over here decided to close both city airports ( Tegel & Tempelhof ) and go with just one airport outside the city. That being said Elite flyer like me will definitely have a hard time once BER is running. I know the city of Berlin did a lot to upgrade and sweeten the trail- and bus connections, but that simply isn’t doing it for me. Add the fact that many, many people fear the new airport won’t be able to cope all passengers of the Berlin / Brandenburg area, since TXL and SXF handled 24.2 million passengers already in 2011. If my data is correct BER International was planned for 25 million passengers, so you do the math…

    But let’s get back to the latest news and the fact BER won’t be open until March 17th. 2013. David is right with his comment SXF won’t have a problem with that. TXL on the other hand: whole different deal! Lufthansa and Air Berlin made it clear a long time ago, they are coming up with a pile of new flights starting June 2012. Also Air Berlin recently became the newest One World member, which now forces them to start being creative when it comes to code share flights and arriving passengers from BA or AA.

    Quite frankly I am kind of curious how Lufthansa and Air Berlin are going to deal with all that, so one thing is for sure: This will be an interesting summer in Berlin, that is for sure! But let’s face it, for the moment March 17th. 2013 stands solid as a rock (LOL).

    When I read about the new date I had a smile on my face. Sure, Berlin’s Tegel airport is old and by far no that exciting as SFO, LAX, LHR, MUC, FRA or ORD, but keep in mind how many centuries ago it was built… And even though it is an old and kind of different airport, I am always fascinated how easy flying from and to TXL actually is. I’m glad my next flights will depart in Tegel and not in SXF / BER.

    Best wishes from Berlin

    1. Hi Michael – great post and insight, thanks! I will observe, however, that I think the previous commenter was being sarcastic when he/she wrote “German inefficiency” as most of us consider Germans to be among the most efficient (inasmuch as one can ascribe such a trait to an entire nation of people).

      At any rate, I wondered if you could provide the background as to why TXL would not remain open, perhaps with limited capacity, especially since THF was already shuttered (and turned into a park IIRC).

      1. Hey Bill, thanks so much for your kind reply. There is a good chance that commenter was joking when talking about German inefficiency, I give you that.
        Nonetheless, my comment about Berlin was the truth, even though this means I am actually not speaking very nice about the city I was born in…
        Anyway, when the Berlin wall came down in 1989 and the German reunification brought the eastern and the western part back together the government started thinking about a new and bigger airport for Berlin and Brandenburg. The idea was to build a whole new airport that would have been able to handle up to 60 million passengers per year. That being said the search for the ideal location began but since politicians are simply not able to agree, that whole search turned out to be pretty difficult. Add some “green tree lovers” and the overall fear that costs might rise sky high and you get the drill…

        Right now we know that the choice came down to Berlin-Schoenefeld, but much more important is the fact opening the new BER in Schoenefeld would only be realized under one condition: closing Tegel and Tempelhof.
        The magic word behind that is called “Planfeststellungsbeschluss” which means “plan approval order”. In other words several politicians in Berlin, Brandenburg and Germany came up with the plan approval order BER will only be realized when TXL and THF are going out of business. That was the idea, that’s how it how it started back in the 1990’s. It goes without saying that many people had their doubts and protested against these plans, but we all know how fruitful that was…
        Once they started the construction work in Schoenefeld the whole thing was set in motion and there was no going back.

        I said it before I am Elite status flyer ( with *Alliance ) and hands down Berlin’s Tegel airport made traveling for me very, very easy during the last centuries. I agree with many things that have been written here today, that goes without saying… We definitely do not want another “Heathrow T5” disaster. And since this was already the second delay, giving that whole adventure time until March 2013 was probably the right thing to do last Wednesday. I mean imagine a third delay, that would have been unbearable. On the other hand, the damage is done! The whole country is laughing big time since the great capital Berlin simply fails and fails and fails.

        Let me add something else here. I mentioned it before Air Berlin is the newest member of One World. They do their best to grow and connect Berlin with the rest of the world, but I actually do not really care because of my love to *Alliance and Lufthansa. Which brings me to the strange fact that the nation’s biggest airline refuses to start intercontinental flights from the new airport near Berlin. Stop for a second and try to fathom that!!!!
        Germany’s biggest airline won’t bring long-haul flights to the nation’s capital new airport… Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind changing planes in ZRH, FRA, MUC, DUS or EWR, but something does not add up here.

        Will is most likely right when saying no one will care in five years. Let’s hope he’s right. :o) But I simply can’t help it, something is very, very of wrong here in the heart of Germany… And yes I mean that in several ways.
        Good night from Berlin.

        1. Thanks again, more great insight about a city I loved when I visited (and would like to visit again). You have raised another great point about x-atl and other long-haul flights from BER. I am guessing LH is trying to protect its hubs at FRA and MUC and to a lesser extent ZRH? Currently, you have, what, just UA to EWR and DL to JFK?

          My thought is that if LH doesn’t pick up this service here, others will, and not just Air Berlin. The US airlines are always trying to find new x-atl service that will work, especially with smaller planes like UA (well, really CO but that’s not important anymore) did with the 757s. Would not surprise me to see UA add IAD (I recall that LH had a short-lived nonstop from IAD to TXL but I think that disappeared post 9/11) and/or ORD, DL could add ATL (and JFK if I am mistaken about current service there) and AA could add (whether on their own or via AB code share) DFW, MIA and and perhaps JFK.

          The problem as I see it lies in how the alliances are arranged. SkyTeam has three major hubs – one US (JFK) and two European (AMS and CDG). OneWorld has

  6. It’s particularly interesting to me as my wife and I are scheduled on one of the brand new Air Berlin direct flights from LAX (that start in June) at the end of August — booked via AAdvantage.

    I sure hope that Tegel can handle what’s coming its way!

    1. You and me both buddy. My wife and I were scheduled to hit the ground at BER vai GVA on 13 July.

      BER was going to be so much easier than TXL with that express rail link to the city center. Guess it’s going to be a bus to the U-Bahn now instead of an express train to the main station…

      1. Depending on the time of day, I might just hail a cab — I did it once before for a super early morning flight — and it was a beautiful introduction to the city (My wife has never been — so it might be good for her to see it coming in) … but the U-Bahn might be good too …

  7. Well, I am pretty sure these packed Air Berlin A330 originating in LAX will give TXL something to chew on. Quite frankly they are doing that already. Just this very morning I was able to see what immigration / passport control in TXL looks like.
    AB7211 from Miami,FLA came in 62 minutes late and the line in front of the three immigration booth have been frustrating long. :o(

  8. All good reasons, though whatever tuns out, we’ll all be front row and center right here in the “pages” of The Cranky Flier.

  9. This is a major bump in the road, but – long-term – not that bad. Remember all the dooms-sayers when the Denver airport opened up? Southwest left. Continental de-hubbed. Schadenfreude set in across the nation. ButfFast-forward to today, that airport is growing, thriving and – dare I say – loved.

    Same is true for Bangkok (except for that whole “loved” part).

    Capital projects like this experience delays and hiccups. Sometimes – like here – those problems are on a grand scale and are incredibly embarrassing and inconvenient.

    But 5 years from now, all anybody will remember is minor nuisance on the way to a great new facility.

    That being said, it’s going to be an unpleasant experience if you’re flowing through the old airports for the next 11 months.

    1. “But 5 years from now, all anybody will remember is minor nuisance on the way to a great new facility.”
      Don’t say that until it opens! Of course, it could (and probably will be) great, but you never know until it is actually in operation. They caught this problem, but there could very well be others that they don’t know about.
      And I would disagree that Bangkok is working well – it is only thriving as there is no alternative, and other than being bigger (but still not big enough) and looking impressive, there is very little that that compares favorably to Don Muang.

    1. There are so many things on the fritz, you have no idea… :o(

      Here is a fun story:Last weekend I took my car and drove out to the BBI.
      Unfortunately I was the only living soul far and wide… No handy man or a hard hat anywhere! Kind of strange, since the whole country knows that there is plenty of work left. That whole BBI-story baffles all descriptions, it really does.

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