The Sad Tale Of Berlin Brandenburg Airport

The Sad Tale Of Berlin Brandenburg Airport

98

Update: Berlin Brandenburg Airport has finally opened. Read a review of the airport here.

Anyone who has flown in or out of Berlin’s primary airport, Tegel, would recall a comically outdated experience, in desperate need of an upgrade. Its unusual shape means the boarding gates are just metres from the taxi rank.

When it is not busy it is actually an extremely efficient airport as there is minimal walking required. But it has severely limited the city of Berlin’s aviation growth.

So, in 2006 the German government announced the commencement of construction of a new airport to replace Tegel, named Willy Brandt Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Willy Brandt was both the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and served as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The airport construction project is managed by German company Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH (FBB). The construction site is next to the low cost Schonefeld Airport it will also replace and I believe it will use their existing runways. The new airport was expected to overtake Dusseldorf as Germany’s third busiest, behind Frankfurt and Munich.

When construction commenced the opening date was tentatively set for October 2011.

This airport is still yet to open more than 6 years after this date.

The more I researched the reasons for the delays as well as the rumours, the more ridiculous they became.

Strap yourselves in and here we go

Berlin Tegel Airport

Delay 1 – Bankruptcy

In June 2010, the airport corporation, FBB, announced that the ‘ambitious’ October 2011 deadline for opening could not be met because of, among other things, the bankruptcy of the construction planning company, Planungsgemeinschaft Berlin-Brandenburg International.

The opening date was pushed to June 2012.

Delay 2 – Check-in desks and smoke exhaust

The 2012 opening date did actually look likely, with Berlin’s Mayor claiming ‘we are on schedule,’ to the point that airlines amended their timetables to reflect operations to the new airport. The huge logistical exercise of moving so much infrastructure from Tegel (and Berlin’s secondary, low cost airport, Schonefeld) to Brandenburg, within just a few days was planned, to ensure limited interruptions to commercial aviation to and from the city.

When an airport is replaced, it is normal to have a period of time where no flights operate to either airport so the infrastructure can be moved from one to the other. Understandably everyone wants that period to be as short as possible and it is usually only hours, rather than days.

There was a problem with the check-in desks in the new terminal. During real-world testing in the lead-up to the opening, each check-in counter was supposed to handle 60 passengers an hour, but staff members were only able to deal with half as many people.

The proposed solution to the check-in delays was to erect tents outdoors for passengers to check-in until additional permanent check-in desks could be built. Only those ‘second-class’ airlines who FBB described as ‘ethnic,’ would be subject to using the outdoor tents. German tenants Lufthansa and Air Berlin would be given preferential treatment to use the desks in the terminal.

I hope I don’t need to explain how this would have looked to the rest of the world.

Less than a month before the June 2012 opening date, that date was postponed because of what I understand to be the primary, and most difficult issue to resolve with the construction of Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Safety inspectors discovered concerning issues with the fire safety and more importantly, with the smoke exhaust systems that had been built. Engineers determined that the fire protection flaps known as ‘dampers’ had been installed without a permit, or seemingly, common-sense.

The design had been to exhaust smoke during an emergency downwards, under the airport’s floors.

The only reason this didn’t work in testing is because smoke rises.

The opening date was pushed to October 2013.

Berlin Tegel Airport

Delay 3 – Changes at the top

In January 2013 the opening date was pushed to at least 2014. There were several personnel changes at FBB, both voluntary and involuntary (read between the lines on that one!). The CEO of FBB was sent packing. For some time, the board of directors had been run by two politicians who had no experience in airport construction — Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit and Brandenburg State Premier Matthias Platzeck. The airport’s former technical director Jochen Grossmann is also accused of having accepted $680,000 in bribes and is now facing corruption charges.

In 2014 a public tender was announced for any European company to bid for the planning and construction coordination of the airport.

No useful offers were received.

In 2014 it was revealed that Alfredo di Mauro, the chief planner for the airport’s fire protection system, was not a qualified engineer but an engineering draftsman. He admitted this, saying everyone thought he was a proper engineer and ‘he didn’t contradict them.’

His mistakes have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fix.

In 2015, Imtech, one of the most important construction companies on site at Branbenburg Airport, files for bankruptcy.

2014 and 2015 came and went, and the airport remained closed.

A blueprint for Berlin Brandenburg Airport

Delay 4  – Transport certification

In May 2016 the FBB realised that official certification for their new underground station servicing the new airport would not be obtained in time for the tentatively scheduled 2017 opening.

FBB’s press spokesman was fired just four months into the job, after giving an interview suggesting serious fraud, corruption, and millions of Euros had been wasted in the planning and construction of the airport.

The opening date was pushed again.

Delay 5 – Tenancy issues

In 2017 Air Berlin filed for insolvency and then ceased operations.

This created yet another headache for FBB — they had lost their biggest tenant before the airport even opened. Lufthansa did promise to take over some routes abandoned by Air Berlin but would retain their major hubs at Frankfurt and Munich, rather than building one at Brandenburg. The third biggest tenant, easyJet, did not offer connections.

This meant no airline would operate a connecting hub at Brandenburg, raising questions about why Berlin needed such a huge airport so far from the city, if all passengers would have to make the fairly long journey to or from the airport for every flight. It’s not unusual for major airports like Tokyo Narita to be located a long way from the city they serve, because when plenty of passengers are connecting, the proximity doesn’t matter as much.

This led to the citizens of Berlin calling for Tegel to remain open even after Brandenburg was eventually opened and become a smaller ‘city’ airport for time-poor business travellers, much like London City Airport is to London Heathrow.

For point-to-point flights on small aircraft on a reduced scale, Tegel would remain a sensible option, especially if all larger aircraft moved to Brandenburg.

Delay 6 – More safety concerns

In 2017 a complete review of all of Brandenburg’s safety controls was undertaken and revealed alarming flaws, especially in relation to smoke control and exhaust (again), as well as sprinklers and fire detection.

The level of problems means that the airport may not open until 2022, although the latest tentative update from airport officials is October 2019. This date seems ambitious.

(Update: In November 2019 it was announced that the airport will/may/should open in October of 2020, and Lufthansa has scheduled flights out of the new airport as of November 2020)

Construction costs have blown out to more than seven billion euros.

Brandenberg Airport has been ready to open for years (Picture: CNN)

Why this is such a big deal

Germany and Germans are known around the world for their ‘German efficiency.’ They just get things done and done properly. They should not have had so much difficulty constructing their capital’s airport. Frankfurt and Munich are enormous, yet run like clockwork. The opening date has been delayed by more than 6 years already, and it could be several years more before there is any opening.

There have been endless stories and rumours circulating about corruption and embarrassingly poor planning; including reports that:

  • 90,000 metres of cables were incorrectly installed
  • 4,000 doors were incorrectly numbered (surely an airport wouldn’t even have this many doors?)
  • Several escalators were too short
  • There still aren’t enough check-in desks
  • FBB planned to have hundreds of nightclub bouncers stationed around the airport 24 hours a day to sound alarms manually and open doors to exhaust smoke given the automated systems could not do so
  • The airport will need to be extended as soon as it eventually opens to keep up with demand
  • 3,000 smoke detectors went missing
  • 750 display screens that were switched on 6 years ago in readiness for the first opening date have already reached the end of their lives and need to be replaced before the airport is even open
  • Thousands of light bulbs run non-stop because officials can’t work out how to turn them off
  • Hundreds of freshly planted trees had to be chopped down because they were the wrong type
  • Every day, an empty train goes five miles to the unfinished airport to stop the tracks from getting rusty
  • The man who filed a claim for 60 million dollars in damages suffered by Air Berlin due to the continued postponed opening in 2012, Hartmut Mehdorn, who described the airport as “a huge embarrassment for Berlin, and the whole world is laughing at us now,” then went on to become the CEO of FBB
  • Willy Brandt’s family have requested his name be removed from the airport, because they do not want his name to be associated with such a disaster
  • Flight paths and sound protection zones were incorrectly calculated
  • The emergency line to the fire department was faulty
  • The airport’s roof was twice the authorised weight

I understand the smoke exhaust design failures are both the most concerning, and most difficult to fix. Given the delays and costs, in hindsight back in 2012 maybe they should have just torn down the terminal and started again.

FBB doesn’t seem to be any closer to opening now than when they first discovered the problems.

At least now it seems like the proper governmental authorities and management are involved and can try and minimise the additional cost and time delays.

Berlin Brandenburg Airport, named after Willy Brandt (for now) (Source: Airlinerwatch)

Bottom line

I feel sorry for Berlin as a city — this has been both a worldwide embarrassment and a severe hindrance to their economic and tourism growth for what is a wonderful city with a difficult history.

I look forward to being able to fly into Brandenburg Airport, but would not expect to be able to do so for at least the next two years.

In the meantime, Tegel strains under the pressure of operating as an airport that was supposed to be closed years ago.

When do you think Brandenburg Airport will open?

Conversations (98)
The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. Paul Tricki Guest

    Amazing lack of understanding, largely on the part of politicians and others who were given responsibility way beyond their abilities. I might suggest parallels with Edinburgh's tram fiasco that was hopelessly over budget and delayed endlessly; the line is still not fully completed. The local politicians involved had no experience of delivering a project of the scale envisaged. Even the "public enquiry" has been cocked up.

  2. Helmut Guest

    Endlosluft got it wrong mentioning Trump in these posts. Trump is a hard nosed business man who builds projects on time and within budgets. He fixed many things in business including a simple skating rink the dim-witted politicians of NYC could not get done. So Trump is a business man trying to be a politician.
    The BER fiasco is an example of liberal politicians trying to be businessmen. A complete opposite.
    But the...

    Endlosluft got it wrong mentioning Trump in these posts. Trump is a hard nosed business man who builds projects on time and within budgets. He fixed many things in business including a simple skating rink the dim-witted politicians of NYC could not get done. So Trump is a business man trying to be a politician.
    The BER fiasco is an example of liberal politicians trying to be businessmen. A complete opposite.
    But the root cause of this and the lack of accountability is the voters of Berlin who keep electing liberal politicians who keep making dim witted decisions with utmost arrogance.

  3. Greg Tingey Guest

    For more information & some good shadenfreude laughs
    http://www.radiospaetkauf.com/ber/

  4. Anne k Gold

    Still trying to determine what we don’t unferstand!

    James, loved the article!

  5. Emily Guest

    German efficiency is not something I have observed after doing significant contract work for German automotive and aviation corporations. German bureaucracy - now that I am familiar with :)

    The crown for being efficient would go to the Japanese or the South Koreans, from my practical experiences.

  6. N1120A Guest

    They should have never closed THF.

  7. Donato Guest

    Kind of an exact parallel to Milano LIN and MXP.
    LIN is practically in Milano and MXP is quite distant. I commuted through LIN monthly and sadly, I loved it even though it was interesting. I was, however, amazed at how many different situations could crop up to ruin my schedule. Weather was always an issue and one day I phoned home to report blue skies and inbound equipment on final approach. Soon after...

    Kind of an exact parallel to Milano LIN and MXP.
    LIN is practically in Milano and MXP is quite distant. I commuted through LIN monthly and sadly, I loved it even though it was interesting. I was, however, amazed at how many different situations could crop up to ruin my schedule. Weather was always an issue and one day I phoned home to report blue skies and inbound equipment on final approach. Soon after it became silent and all operations halted. The issue that day was a hole in the active runway.

  8. Him Guest

    demonstration and reconstruction would always be faster option

  9. Mohammad S Guest

    Great article!! I feel like topics such as this are consistently referred to in Lucky's articles, but never explained. I never knew the extent of the issues at Brandenburg. The detailed research really helped - this actually seems like professional work instead of an immature, low-quality opinionated rant from Lucky again. Glad to have you at OMAAT!

  10. Nate Guest

    I like this article. Keep them coming!

  11. Barry Guest

    Great article, very well done.

  12. Mike New Member

    This reminds me very much of Mirabel airport near Montreal. Huge financial blunder by the government.

  13. EndlosLuft Guest

    Meant to write "Air Berlin".

  14. EndlosLuft Guest

    I think most Berliner's would disagree with "TXL may be an utter piece of shi*t". Most people would love to be able to drive up with a car or Taxi to within 10 meters of where your Gate is.

    By the way the original design for Tegel called for two Hexagons. The second was never built. That would have made a big difference for incoming flights. And frankly I'm dismayed that only Easyjet and Ryanair...

    I think most Berliner's would disagree with "TXL may be an utter piece of shi*t". Most people would love to be able to drive up with a car or Taxi to within 10 meters of where your Gate is.

    By the way the original design for Tegel called for two Hexagons. The second was never built. That would have made a big difference for incoming flights. And frankly I'm dismayed that only Easyjet and Ryanair seemed to have jumped at getting gates with the pull out of Lufthansa and the death of Berlin. United would make a killing on a San Francisco to Berlin route (especially in premium traffic). Where are the other major airlines stepping in. I'm sure the city would find a way to make that happen.

    Istanbul's new airport sounds pretty cool. But it is grim that 27 (official figures) to 32 as reported by the press people died during it's construction. At least that's a statistic BER doesn't have to compete with. But of course the incompetence of Berlin's city government in thinking they know what it takes to build an airport is rather "Trumpesque".

    Personally, I love Tegel. They should keep it forever.

    Start over with a second airport (likely involving bulldozing the failed BER) And if you want to talk about a sh*$ty airport SXF was truly designed by communist Germany as a maze to keep people fleeing the country via an airplane. Up/down/up/left/right/wait-when-will-my-gate-by-announced/I-bought-speedy-boarding-but-the-hallway-is-only-big-enough-to-fit-one-person-at-a-time-so-how-do-i-pass-these-people/thank-god-i'm-not-claustrophobic type of experience.

  15. Carl Guest

    For the poster who wants to tarnish Merkel... She had nothing to do with it. This was run regionally and there was no reason this would have risen to her attention. It's really a failure of Berlin and Brandenburg to properly organize, staff, and manage the project.

  16. Carl Guest

    I sort of hope that BER/BBI will never open.

    TXL is so convenient, even if it is crowded and the public transport link is buses - 4 lines that between them run about every 2 minutes. Still much faster than the trip will ever be to BER/BBI/SXF whatever you call it.

    For the posters who want to denigrate Germany, both FRA and MUC built significant terminal additions within this time without problems - MUC a...

    I sort of hope that BER/BBI will never open.

    TXL is so convenient, even if it is crowded and the public transport link is buses - 4 lines that between them run about every 2 minutes. Still much faster than the trip will ever be to BER/BBI/SXF whatever you call it.

    For the posters who want to denigrate Germany, both FRA and MUC built significant terminal additions within this time without problems - MUC a new midfield Concourse, and FRA the entire A/Z concourse. The failure is regional to Berlin. If you want to make a conspiracy, it does somehow benefit LH for BER to be a disaster.

  17. Dan Alan Gold

    German corruption and greed is very much alive and well. Not sure why people are not being punished in Germany..the same way Germans punished the people behind the "VOLKSWAGON" fiasco. Angel Merkel is a real liberal treat.

  18. Myles Guest

    @James

    I hope you should be aware as the mastermind of this topic that you should moderate your readers ..otherwise the gate of hell and racism will give everybody the right to rant and insult every nation or race..believe me..it is easy to let it out but catching or taking it back..is the worst part!
    Some of these commentors are just plain stupid and think they know better and happy to rant over a...

    @James

    I hope you should be aware as the mastermind of this topic that you should moderate your readers ..otherwise the gate of hell and racism will give everybody the right to rant and insult every nation or race..believe me..it is easy to let it out but catching or taking it back..is the worst part!
    Some of these commentors are just plain stupid and think they know better and happy to rant over a famous highly industrialised nation to make them feel better or just want revenge as they were victimed of the highly strict German authorities in some situatons etc..
    And to a specific commentor mentioning Nazis comparison! You are a plain idiotic red neck who definitely does not about history..hopefully you would not ever encountered or undergo what other people have to bear under these evil beings of men..You should be ashamed to your bones for the lack of decency and knowledge, if you ever have one in your miserly pathetic existence of the lowest lifeform on earth!

    @Lucky

    You should not be having such discussions or gaffes of this kind in your blog...pls. control it better! or bear to read more racist and antisemitic faux pas in the future!

  19. Gary Guest

    My apologies for throwing this in but the sentences "Germany and Germans are known around the world for their ‘German efficiency.’ They just get things done and done properly." is a cultural trap, particularly for Americans.

    I have worked with a number of European nationalities and I have personally witnessed the C-Level managers of an American Fortune 100 company fall in love with the management of their "new German acquisition" only to watch their admiration...

    My apologies for throwing this in but the sentences "Germany and Germans are known around the world for their ‘German efficiency.’ They just get things done and done properly." is a cultural trap, particularly for Americans.

    I have worked with a number of European nationalities and I have personally witnessed the C-Level managers of an American Fortune 100 company fall in love with the management of their "new German acquisition" only to watch their admiration change to disdain and outright loathing.

    All cultures have stereotypes that are mainly based on exaggeration but they do hold some truth. In the case of German culture, one of these is "Germans will follow a perfectly good plan right into the wall." I am sure that this airport fiasco is such an example. They had a plan but when they knew that it was not working, nobody could decide to discard it and just start all over. As James wrote, "Given the delays and costs, in hindsight back in 2012 maybe they should have just torn down the terminal and started again."

  20. Myles Guest

    @Kent

    So who are you to know and judge over Germany!! Just like most of the comments here are verbal diarrhea..I hope those who wanted to rant over the airport and Germany are happy now! The Germans you met are certainly not real Germans..as these people will tell you to mind your own business..

  21. Kent Guest

    Ben,

    Wasn't Angela Merkle in charge of Germany throughout this entire time period?

    I was in Hong Kong when they "Moved" airports overnite. Closed at midnite, opened at 6 am in the morning. It was far too audacious, but still they pulled it off.

    The failings in Germany are now leaking out to the world and thus she and her party's popularity have been falling quite dramatically. Nothing short of another coalition government in...

    Ben,

    Wasn't Angela Merkle in charge of Germany throughout this entire time period?

    I was in Hong Kong when they "Moved" airports overnite. Closed at midnite, opened at 6 am in the morning. It was far too audacious, but still they pulled it off.

    The failings in Germany are now leaking out to the world and thus she and her party's popularity have been falling quite dramatically. Nothing short of another coalition government in EU/UK. Germans we've met are embarrassed.

    Kent

  22. Evan Guest

    Simply put you are a better writer than "Lucky". He may have the knowledge and take good pictures but his prose is awkward and has not improved over time. I've now come to the conclusion that OMAAT might actually be better off with newer contributors who can write, with Ben at the helm as it were.

    1. James OMAAT

      @ Evan - appreciate your kind words. Each writer on the team has their individual specialities and interests and I'm 'lucky' myself to be able to write about the things that interest me!

  23. Stefan Guest

    Nobody in Berlin wants TXL to close. It is a fascinating city airport, that can be reached from the city center in 10-15 minutes. Once you step out of the taxi, it is about 100 ft. to where your plane stands. Everyone here wants TXL to stay open, but this wish is completely ignored by our Berlin Mayor and his coalition. There will hardly be any intercontinental flights from the new airport and Lufthansa has...

    Nobody in Berlin wants TXL to close. It is a fascinating city airport, that can be reached from the city center in 10-15 minutes. Once you step out of the taxi, it is about 100 ft. to where your plane stands. Everyone here wants TXL to stay open, but this wish is completely ignored by our Berlin Mayor and his coalition. There will hardly be any intercontinental flights from the new airport and Lufthansa has avoided Berlin for decades. (Lufthansa just cancelled the TXL-JFK route, that they took over from Airberlin and operated it for just 6 months).

  24. Evan Guest

    @Notbad41 - appallingly bad taste.

  25. Bagoly Guest

    "The construction site is next to the low cost Schonefeld Airport it will also replace and I believe it will use their existing runways."
    Almost - this was one sensible decision:
    SXF was the old Russian sector airport, with one runway.
    The plan for the new airport was to build it the other side of the existing runway, with a second runway beyond that.
    Then I suspect the SXF terminals were...

    "The construction site is next to the low cost Schonefeld Airport it will also replace and I believe it will use their existing runways."
    Almost - this was one sensible decision:
    SXF was the old Russian sector airport, with one runway.
    The plan for the new airport was to build it the other side of the existing runway, with a second runway beyond that.
    Then I suspect the SXF terminals were to be knocked down and replaced with a Government/Corporate terminal.
    In practice, SXF is now so overcrowded that the Corporate "terminal" was converted to HBO security, and as somebody else mentioned, a new terminal D2 was built last year.
    The new runway is sometimes used for flights to or from SXF.

    The new airport is not as close to the centre as TXL (let alone the closed Tempelhof), but it's no further than at most European capitals.

    An example of the management arrogance is that there was a pseudo-code BER used like LON and NYC. The new airport managed to persuade IATA to let them have BER, so there is now no code for TXL+SXF.
    Some equipment branded BER (E.g. lane dividers) is used at SXF and TXL.

    And the most absurd knock-on effect is that the German government 'planes are still based at ... Bonn!

  26. Notbad41 New Member

    A lot of grammar nazis replying on this post....

    1. James OMAAT

      @ Notbad41 - I'm sure you didn't mean it but that is an extremely unfortunate term to use in an article on this topic.

  27. Steven M Guest

    TXL was fun long ago when I was a kid and West Berlin was an isolated island. Tempelhof was a majestic little airport that shouldn't have been closed. Schönefeld might well be the most ghastly airport in western Europe. BER is never going to open.

    "They just get things done and done properly."

    It's fascinating that in bankruptcy Air Berlin has sent me more proper and more frequent emails than when it existed. But no...

    TXL was fun long ago when I was a kid and West Berlin was an isolated island. Tempelhof was a majestic little airport that shouldn't have been closed. Schönefeld might well be the most ghastly airport in western Europe. BER is never going to open.

    "They just get things done and done properly."

    It's fascinating that in bankruptcy Air Berlin has sent me more proper and more frequent emails than when it existed. But no I didn't file paperwork this past week to capture a fraction of a € on my miles despite their exhorting me ,,als topbonus Teilnehmer mit Meilenforderung erhalten Sie hiermit gemäß § 235 Abs. 3 InsO die Ladung zum Termin über die Erörterung und Abstimmung eines Insolvenzplans im Insolvenzverfahren der topbonus Ltd, Saatwinkler Damm 42-43, 13627 Berlin, Amtsgericht Berlin-Charlottenburg, 36t IN 4474/17" usw.

    Might want to re-think the old stereotype of things get done and done properly.

  28. Ben Guest

    Lived in Germany just over a year now and would generally say that German efficiency is a myth, confused with a fondness for bureaucracy and following the rules. Dig a little deeper and there is a litany of failed / delayed construction projects. Stuttgart 21 for example. Theres a saying in Germany around where I am, 'If you want to see German efficiency, go to Switzerland'.

  29. Grenn Guest

    I actually like TXL… its like the scrappy little rascal middle-fingering all the shiny fancy new mega-airports… very Berlin in spirit
    She may not look like much but getting from plane to city center in an hour is pretty awesome. The open-air viewing deck spanning almost the entire roof of the hexagon is totes avgeek-y too ☺️

  30. TT1234 Guest

    Only thing for it is to knock it down and start again

  31. Chico Luz New Member

    Very interesting article, James.

    I love to read about BER, and at least once per month I open the skyscrapper thread about the airport.
    I visited Berlin for the first time in 2011 and I always thought that, coming back, it would be thru the new airport. Well, three times since then and still the fascinatingly oh-so berlinesque TXL. But I always expected BER would be a state of the art airport. Now, without...

    Very interesting article, James.

    I love to read about BER, and at least once per month I open the skyscrapper thread about the airport.
    I visited Berlin for the first time in 2011 and I always thought that, coming back, it would be thru the new airport. Well, three times since then and still the fascinatingly oh-so berlinesque TXL. But I always expected BER would be a state of the art airport. Now, without airBerlin and without LH putting up a proper hub... well, who knows.

    Keep up the great job.

  32. Juergen New Member

    To add one should reflect that the main reason this is such a desaster is that politics got into the construction business. When the plan was made to build the airport, the sum of the best bidder was thought to be too high for the government of Brandenburg and Berlin, so they decided to build the airport by themselves. They made some very stupid decisions in the way. One was that they wanted small firms...

    To add one should reflect that the main reason this is such a desaster is that politics got into the construction business. When the plan was made to build the airport, the sum of the best bidder was thought to be too high for the government of Brandenburg and Berlin, so they decided to build the airport by themselves. They made some very stupid decisions in the way. One was that they wanted small firms of the rural areas should get a margin of the plan by giving them parts of the project. Needless to say that most electricians in the area have never build an airport before. Most agree that accepting the initial offer of Hochtief and IVG to build the whole project with 2 billion Euro was actually not too high. Also most agree that we would then had an functional airport since 2012. Unfortunately no politician left the office in this sitcom, they feel that the events were out of their control...

  33. Lars K Gold

    Very interesting read.
    I would also like to emphasize though that the main reason for the huge delays, the fire exhaust sytem, is complicated because it is a moving target, changing constantly. You would think that when permitting is done for a project like this, the construction can poceed according to what was permitted.
    Well, not in BER. They keep changing the code and then expect on ongoing project like this to comply...

    Very interesting read.
    I would also like to emphasize though that the main reason for the huge delays, the fire exhaust sytem, is complicated because it is a moving target, changing constantly. You would think that when permitting is done for a project like this, the construction can poceed according to what was permitted.
    Well, not in BER. They keep changing the code and then expect on ongoing project like this to comply with the latest. Simply impossible.
    The root cause is politicians in charge. Social Democrats in particular. At FRA und MUC you had the conservatives run the state governments, who believe in private enterprise and restrain themselves from micro-managing a project like this. If BER was run by private enterprise it would have opened 5 years ago, easily.

  34. Jay Platinum

    Another great article. Well done again James. If you had said this airport construction project was in North Korea or similar then it would have been hilarious. In Berlin OMG

  35. John S Guest

    James is my favorite OMAAT writer now. Hope he is paid well. If he had his own blog I would prefer it as I like industry update more that credit card updates.

  36. Frank Guest

    My favourite scenario for this practical joke of a would be airport is that the whole unfinished building gets abandoned and becomes a habitat for the wolves that settle in ever increasing numbers in the state of Brandenburg.

    Living in Berlin, I wish I would have been the one thinking of this concept that surely would be the most fitting solution for the riddle that is the BBI, but someone beat me to it. It is hereby cited with respect and a snigger.

  37. Donato Platinum

    In the (very) long run the airport will open and be safe. Years ago I witnessed a Hotel complex being built in Germany. Because of the location work was primarily done at night. After a while it seemed to me that they were moving backwards, they seemed to be dismantling at times. It turned out that the engineers discovered the metal beams were brought in from China with dangerous defects and nobody would sign off...

    In the (very) long run the airport will open and be safe. Years ago I witnessed a Hotel complex being built in Germany. Because of the location work was primarily done at night. After a while it seemed to me that they were moving backwards, they seemed to be dismantling at times. It turned out that the engineers discovered the metal beams were brought in from China with dangerous defects and nobody would sign off till they were replaced.
    My confidence in the German way is weakening but ultimately, when it opens it will be safe.
    Can we be as sure for construction in the USA?

  38. view New Member

    Good and refreshing read, thanks

  39. snic Diamond

    @Kevin: "She mentioned something about screws are all rubber and needed to be replaced with metal ones"

    This falls under "don't believe everything you hear." Like James' bit about the airport hiring nightclub bouncers to stand by to manually open doors (and several other "facts" that challenge belief). A ridiculous boondoggle like this airport is going to engender a lot of joking around. Then people who overhear the jokes start repeating them as fact, not...

    @Kevin: "She mentioned something about screws are all rubber and needed to be replaced with metal ones"

    This falls under "don't believe everything you hear." Like James' bit about the airport hiring nightclub bouncers to stand by to manually open doors (and several other "facts" that challenge belief). A ridiculous boondoggle like this airport is going to engender a lot of joking around. Then people who overhear the jokes start repeating them as fact, not realizing they were jokes. Soon you have urban legends sprouting like mushrooms after an autumn rain.

  40. snic Diamond

    This is nothing. New York has been building a subway line for >100 years.

  41. Myles Guest

    @ John

    just give yourself time than you will understand..otherwise it is not for you to unferstand..

  42. John Guest

    @Myles...

    You make no sense

  43. Myles Guest

    So the German OMAAT readers have finally have a topic to discuss over..congrats..talking about German inefficency from a so called highly industrialised country ..charming..anything else?..Oh..finally forgotten the filty Phily airport report..so forward to the most expensive and totally wasted dump of a modern airport..
    so anybody proposing the next dump airport James has to report?
    Oh by the way! The obligatory greeting " James you are such a blessing in disguise!..Your so much...

    So the German OMAAT readers have finally have a topic to discuss over..congrats..talking about German inefficency from a so called highly industrialised country ..charming..anything else?..Oh..finally forgotten the filty Phily airport report..so forward to the most expensive and totally wasted dump of a modern airport..
    so anybody proposing the next dump airport James has to report?
    Oh by the way! The obligatory greeting " James you are such a blessing in disguise!..Your so much talented than your boss in bringing substantial reports..whatever that means..to OMAAT!"
    James, seriously I am happy for you that you have reached certain readers here that only you can definitely relate to or them to you! Lucky does not need to do that anymore!

  44. François Gold

    Wow, this was more of a trainwreck than I expected. Very, very interesting read. Well done, James! Would love more pieces like this.

  45. buzz Guest

    @Chris Schaulandt ....but the A380 is at the southwest corner of the terminal building, not in the middle!!!

  46. Allison Guest

    I agree that James has been a great addition! I find that many of the posts I choose to read are his. Look forward to more.

  47. Justin Guest

    +1 on agreeing that James is on a roll. Excellent writer, interesting topics, new perspective for the great OMAAT blog. I forwarded James' post to a friend of mine who is a building engineer in London. I assumed my friend knew about the Berlin-Brandenburg disaster, but still thought James' take on it would be a fun read for him. He actually hadn't heard of it either! So great work James on highlighting a major airport/engineering/infrastructure...

    +1 on agreeing that James is on a roll. Excellent writer, interesting topics, new perspective for the great OMAAT blog. I forwarded James' post to a friend of mine who is a building engineer in London. I assumed my friend knew about the Berlin-Brandenburg disaster, but still thought James' take on it would be a fun read for him. He actually hadn't heard of it either! So great work James on highlighting a major airport/engineering/infrastructure issue that still hasn't gotten enough awareness.

  48. Alisson Guest

    Great article! Love James' posts.
    What I think to be the most interesting about this is that I'm only learning about it for the first time today.
    If it happened in Brazil, after all the delays pre-World Cup 2014, I sure would've heard about it way earlier, but it sure shocks me a little that it's happening in Germany.

  49. Kevin Guest

    I was actually talking about this airport with my German friend few weeks ago. She was the one who brought it up and said it’s an absolute disaster. She mentioned something about screws are all rubber and needed to be replaced with metal ones... replacing all the screws for the whole airport! I was amazed and thought surely this kind of things only happens in other countries not name Germany.

    Btw can we say James is on a roll from the get go?

  50. Chris Schaulandt Guest

    The one thing you kind of missed is that the vast majority of all problems were actually caused by political decisions, not aviation or construction experts. The best example was the A380 gate which was supposed to be on the side of the main terminal to allow maximum space that is required for ground handling of this massive aircraft. This is what the "supposed to be" operating company AirBerlin requested. (Side note: Airberlin actually never...

    The one thing you kind of missed is that the vast majority of all problems were actually caused by political decisions, not aviation or construction experts. The best example was the A380 gate which was supposed to be on the side of the main terminal to allow maximum space that is required for ground handling of this massive aircraft. This is what the "supposed to be" operating company AirBerlin requested. (Side note: Airberlin actually never ordered a A380...) The major of Berlin (Klaus Wowereit) requested it to be moved to the center, blocking both the left and right gate of it when operated for the A380. The reason: It looks nicer if the iconic aircraft is more visible to people in the terminal. All experts were left speachless, but they executed it as advised by the politians.

  51. Chris Schaulandt Guest

    The best article in the german newspaper Spiegel after they announced the 3rd or 4th postponment was so spot on. The headline was something "Further delay on BER" and the article itself was just "Ach..." (which translates to something like "So what..."). No more words as this one very german word said it all....

  52. mangoMan Gold

    Enjoyable post! More along these lines would be great!

  53. Brian Guest

    Great article and great addition to the OMAAT team! Keep articles like this coming!

  54. Oscar Guest

    Yes your excellency, please "rub salt in the wounds" of us taxpayers in Berlin/Germany.
    It's an ongoing sad sad joke for years now :(

  55. Marcus Gold

    This is a great article! Loved it! It reminded me more of construction projects in India ( my home country) than the amazingly efficient Germans!

  56. Evan Gold

    Mixed feelings here. On one hand, I'd love to fly into Berlin nonstop from NYC and a large capacity expansion would make that easier.

    On the other, when my hometown of NYC spends 1.5-3.5 Billion PER MILE on subway/rail lines (3-5x other cities) and Boston went through the Big Dig, so its mildly refreshing to see another advanced economy incapable of building new efficient infrastructure . Does that make me a bad person?

  57. Icarus Guest

    If common sense prevailed, it would have been more logical and cheaper to demolish the terminal which has no architectural appeal, and build from the ground up. Meantime Beijing and istanbul have built new airports from scratch Several airports have built huge new terminals. Even the midfield concourse at LAX has gone up at a faster rate

  58. derek Diamond

    Why not just keep the old name, Schonefeld? Because it may be associated with the DDR? The new airport is where Schonefeld is located. One runway is kept and a new one built. The terminal is not next to the old one.

  59. Cedric Gold

    Mirabel actually functionned well, but was never needed really and was way to far from the city.

    Berlin is easily in my top 3 cities. I've also had great experiences at TXL, very short delays and all. Sure the Airport isn't up to modern standards, but it actually works.

  60. Frederik Guest

    "Willy Brandt’s family have requested his name be removed from the airport, because they do not want his name to be associated with such a disaster."

    Haha, that's fantastic! May I suggest "Franz Kafka International Airport" as an alternative name?

  61. Andrew New Member

    sounds like Berlin Brandenburg is the new Montreal-Mirabel, or worse

  62. Donna Diamond

    I spent a week in Berlin a few years ago traveling with Air Berlin and even with the old airport, I got in and out of there without issue. It’s a great city - no need to wait forever on the new airport, whenever that gets operational. Definitely put this place on your near term bucket list.

  63. Mitch Gold

    Great post, James! Wonderful addition to OMAAT

  64. weiskel Guest

    @ James:

    I understand that this wasn't intended as a post about German history, and as I said, I was nitpicking.

    BUT:

    I do feel that the reason your posts consistently seem to garner more reader engagement than Lucky's is that one gets the sense that you are a guy who actually travels *to* places. Whereas Lucky seems to have missed the fact that "Up in the Air" was a satire. I feel that this...

    @ James:

    I understand that this wasn't intended as a post about German history, and as I said, I was nitpicking.

    BUT:

    I do feel that the reason your posts consistently seem to garner more reader engagement than Lucky's is that one gets the sense that you are a guy who actually travels *to* places. Whereas Lucky seems to have missed the fact that "Up in the Air" was a satire. I feel that this is your strength as a contributor, so please don't try to be just another points & miles blogger, even if you are writing for a points & miles blog.

    For instance, I would love a regular column on interesting airports around the world: their history, their unique design, general oddities about them. TXL is one such airport: if you live in the points & miles world, you'll only experience it as a logistical mess with a horrendous PP lounge. But there's so much more to it! Same is surely true for NY Idlewild. What was that like before it became Kennedy? Or maybe even the London City airport to which you seem so attached.

    Just a thought...

  65. vlcnc Guest

    It's hilarious as in that time, Istanbul a comparable city started building its airport and is actually now complete and nearing opening in November!

  66. Charlie McMillan Platinum

    I flew out of TXL last summer and it was quite pleasant for reasons of size as you mentioned, except for the congested gate area at boarding time. I hate airports where you have to walk for miles to get anywhere, like T2 at LHR. At TXL I found a nice cafeteria restaurant with decent food to pass some time. I also liked the fact it's an easy bus ride from Alexanderplatz on a single...

    I flew out of TXL last summer and it was quite pleasant for reasons of size as you mentioned, except for the congested gate area at boarding time. I hate airports where you have to walk for miles to get anywhere, like T2 at LHR. At TXL I found a nice cafeteria restaurant with decent food to pass some time. I also liked the fact it's an easy bus ride from Alexanderplatz on a single fare, while the new airport is 27km away from central Berlin and I'll bet it's longer to get to on public transit, and likely more expensive.

  67. DaninMCI Guest

    Fun stuff. At least it has become a soap opera and it's fun to watch all this stuff. As a safety engineer I find it fascinating that they didn't find most of the issues after it opened. That is what typically happens. Also at the pace they are going technology will outrun the project. The rapid pace of wifi, led displays, lighting, fire sprinkler systems, hvac, etc. are all advancing at an increasing pace since...

    Fun stuff. At least it has become a soap opera and it's fun to watch all this stuff. As a safety engineer I find it fascinating that they didn't find most of the issues after it opened. That is what typically happens. Also at the pace they are going technology will outrun the project. The rapid pace of wifi, led displays, lighting, fire sprinkler systems, hvac, etc. are all advancing at an increasing pace since they started construction.
    Great post. It's like reading a Wikipedia entry :)

    I would say that at this point they should consider keeping Tegel open. Capacity in the future could make this a big deal. I assume some carriers aren't willing to commit to the new airport as any sort of hub until it actually opens at this point.

  68. Justin Guest

    Brilliant post. I thought I already knew enough about the Berlin Brandenburg disaster, but this was a fun read.

  69. Al Gold

    @James, thanks so much for this history of Berlin's new airport! I definitely did not know much about this topic before and you provided a great overview. Well Done!

  70. Juraj Guest

    I've always found it mind-boggling how close this airport actually came to opening at one point, with scheduled train services running and a grand overnight equipment transfer planned for a particular date. At that time, it seemed like any delay would be a matter of months, yet here we are, six years later...
    Those trains actually continued to run to the airport for several months, without passengers. German Railways argued that a timetable was...

    I've always found it mind-boggling how close this airport actually came to opening at one point, with scheduled train services running and a grand overnight equipment transfer planned for a particular date. At that time, it seemed like any delay would be a matter of months, yet here we are, six years later...
    Those trains actually continued to run to the airport for several months, without passengers. German Railways argued that a timetable was in place, and so services need to be operated.
    Meanwhile, the adjacent ex-East Berlin Schönefeld airport has grown so much in terms of traffic that a new terminal building had to be constructed in the recent years. When you take off from SXF, you get a great view of the big new terminal building, just sitting there.

  71. Philipp Guest

    @Gabriel: Frankfurt is Germany's 5th largest city and located (more or less) centrally in Germany.

    Also its importance is also historically, given that the divided Berlin wasn't a great choice for many companies. I don't think any other city will ever be able to outrun Frankfurt as Germany's major transportation hub in both rail and air travel

  72. Ben Holz Platinum

    Meanwhile in Munich they managed to move everything from the Riem airport to MUC overnight... shows the difference in efficiency between northerners and bavarians ;)

  73. Brian Guest

    Contrast this with Istanbul’s new airport. The tender for construction started in Mid-2013 and it's nearly done. Was this one of the “ethnic” countries that would need a tent?

    1. James OMAAT

      @ Brian - Turkey was one of the countries I found specifically mentioned as being required to use a tent.

  74. Frank Gold

    As you mentioned Frankfurt and Munich airports as "enormous, yet run like clockwork":
    In 2012 FBB even hired Horst Amann, a top project manager from Fraport (the company which runs FRA, among other airports). But while he (still) has the reputation of a "doer" with little interest in publicity, he absolutely clashed with Mehdorn (who was hired about half a year later) about strategic questions (and Mehdorn's self-pleasing style of leadership) and subsequently left...

    As you mentioned Frankfurt and Munich airports as "enormous, yet run like clockwork":
    In 2012 FBB even hired Horst Amann, a top project manager from Fraport (the company which runs FRA, among other airports). But while he (still) has the reputation of a "doer" with little interest in publicity, he absolutely clashed with Mehdorn (who was hired about half a year later) about strategic questions (and Mehdorn's self-pleasing style of leadership) and subsequently left FBB without actually having lasting impact...
    More on Amann here (sorry, only in German):
    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horst_Amann_(Bauingenieur)

  75. No Name Guest

    @DCS

    What happened to the much-touted “German efficiency”?

    They joined up with the east Germans? Suddenly you get public employees and politicians that have grown to adulthood under the communists make decisions in a free market economy.

    Brandenburg was the main airport for the DDR, chances are that a lot of the older employees now in leadership positions started working there when it was the hub of Interflug

  76. Debit’s sister Platinum

    As a citizen of one of those “ethnic” countries, i read this with great pleasure in the face of German arrogance.

  77. Paolo Diamond

    I'll avoid any unnecessary but obvious historical references and simply say that it defies belief that this happens in Germany, land of first-class engineering and design. And in contrast, Munich is a joy to use.

  78. Nicole Guest

    This post touches on some superficial reasons, however the real source behind the mess is that the airport was not subsidized by the German government, as is Frankfurt airport. In the 1990s, Lufthansa expressed interest in a third German hub (outside FRA and MUC), but the federal government blocked this because it is part-owner of competing Frankfurt airport. Therefore FBB just decided to build and manage the new airport itself. FBB also bid out the...

    This post touches on some superficial reasons, however the real source behind the mess is that the airport was not subsidized by the German government, as is Frankfurt airport. In the 1990s, Lufthansa expressed interest in a third German hub (outside FRA and MUC), but the federal government blocked this because it is part-owner of competing Frankfurt airport. Therefore FBB just decided to build and manage the new airport itself. FBB also bid out the entire project in small tenders rather than hire a prime contractor, because they were afraid that the bidders had fixed the price. Therefore these individual companies just blame each other for delays and have no compelling reason to work together in a timely way - they continue to get paid the longer this drags out. The airport will probably never open since no airline will use it as a hub, as airBerlin no longer exists, and will probably be dismantled for parts because the capacity is 27m passengers per year, while 33m passengers came to Berlin's two existing airports in 2017.

    The smoke detector was only a minor part of this, as a report found the airport was only 56% finished at that time and the smoke extractor wasn't even ready to be tested.

    I lived in Berlin for a decade and have followed this closely for years. Just saying... ;)

  79. DCS Diamond

    Great and highly informative post, James. I recall the great fanfare and promise back in 2006 when the project was announced. What happened to the much-touted "German efficiency"?!

  80. LarryInNYC Guest

    As a New Yorker, this makes me feel a little (but only a little) less embarrassed by JFK.

  81. Frank Gold

    @ James:
    +1 to weiskel's No. (3)
    and his first name is Hartmut, not Harmut

  82. Dan Guest

    „in 2006 the German government announced the commencement of construction of a new airport to replace Tegel,“
    Shouldn’t it mean „ commenced the construction“? The announcement was 15 years before in 1991

    1. James OMAAT

      @ Dan - I meant 'announced construction had commenced'.

  83. Jason Diamond

    Great article. Fix the second sentence first paragraph, though. It should read “Its” not “it’s”. It’s means “it is”, which is not what that word should be.

  84. LX Guest

    This isn't even a new airport. It's a new terminal building on an existing airport.
    IIRC, Berlin and Brandenburg opted to not have a main contractor but to award contracts lot by lot with minimal coordination between contractors. A recipe for desaster.

  85. weiskel Guest

    Thanks for listening to your readers and posting a story about FBB, James! But since this is OMAAT and we will always nitpick:

    (1) Tegel airport does not have a circular shape. It is hexagonal. That design element is actually woven into many of the airport's interior elements, from the floor tiles to the concrete ceiling. TXL may be an utter piece of shi*t from a practical perspective, but it does have lots of design...

    Thanks for listening to your readers and posting a story about FBB, James! But since this is OMAAT and we will always nitpick:

    (1) Tegel airport does not have a circular shape. It is hexagonal. That design element is actually woven into many of the airport's interior elements, from the floor tiles to the concrete ceiling. TXL may be an utter piece of shi*t from a practical perspective, but it does have lots of design flair.

    (2) Willy Brandt was mayor of West Berlin when the Wall was built, and also when Kennedy visited the city. That's the main reason the airport is named for him, not the fact that he is a former chancellor.

    (3) Hartmut Mehdorn (sp) isn't just some random guy who field a lawsuit against the airport; he's the former head of Air Berlin.

    1. James OMAAT

      @ weiskel - there was obviously a LOT of information to cover in this article and I needed to draw a line in the sand as you how deep I would dive into this. I decided to keep historical political information to a minimum as this is a site for miles and points, not political history and I know a lot more about miles and points than WW2 history and its aftermath.
      I've removed...

      @ weiskel - there was obviously a LOT of information to cover in this article and I needed to draw a line in the sand as you how deep I would dive into this. I decided to keep historical political information to a minimum as this is a site for miles and points, not political history and I know a lot more about miles and points than WW2 history and its aftermath.
      I've removed the word 'circular' from the description of the shape but would note that it does feel a lot like a circle when you are walking around the terminal.

  86. John Guest

    Nice work, James

    Where is Spencer?

  87. Gabriel New Member

    "Thousands of light bulbs run non-stop because officials can’t work out how to turn them off"
    That's just pure gold.
    Since Berlin is the largest city in Germany, I wonder if the larger airport would've contributed to making it the financial hub of the country, taking Frankfurt's place. It always amazes me how great of a city Frankfurt is, while being relatively very small.

  88. Jim Guest

    Great read, this has been a great addition to OMAAT

  89. William W New Member

    Enjoying your posts! Keep up the good work.

  90. Tdv Guest

    Interesting article. Can I echo those who have said you’re a welcome addition to this site (esp for UK based people like me) adding new kinds of content which breaks from the trend of articles about US-only credit cards and whatever new hotel Hyatt has opened. Perhaps you can free Lucky to go back to his core “product” of trip reports.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Paul Tricki Guest

Amazing lack of understanding, largely on the part of politicians and others who were given responsibility way beyond their abilities. I might suggest parallels with Edinburgh's tram fiasco that was hopelessly over budget and delayed endlessly; the line is still not fully completed. The local politicians involved had no experience of delivering a project of the scale envisaged. Even the "public enquiry" has been cocked up.

0
Helmut Guest

Endlosluft got it wrong mentioning Trump in these posts. Trump is a hard nosed business man who builds projects on time and within budgets. He fixed many things in business including a simple skating rink the dim-witted politicians of NYC could not get done. So Trump is a business man trying to be a politician. The BER fiasco is an example of liberal politicians trying to be businessmen. A complete opposite. But the root cause of this and the lack of accountability is the voters of Berlin who keep electing liberal politicians who keep making dim witted decisions with utmost arrogance.

0
Greg Tingey Guest

For more information & some good shadenfreude laughs http://www.radiospaetkauf.com/ber/

0
Meet James, OMAAT Editor
Miles Traveled

Words Written

Posts Published

Keep Exploring OMAAT