Berlin Airport Delayed for 9 Months as Airlines Query Reason

Berlin’s new airport said it won’t open until next spring, jeopardizing plans to add flights from Germany’s capital city at carriers including Air Berlin Plc. (AB1)

Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport, built at a cost of 2.5 billion euros ($3.2 billion), will commence services on March 17 following the completion of fire-safety tests that had already led to the cancellation of a June 3 start date.

“This is completely unacceptable and will result in irreparable damage to the image of Berlin as an airport hub,” Air Berlin Chief Executive Officer Hartmut Mehdorn said in a statement today. “The delay of the opening by many months can’t be explained any more by simple fire-safety measures.”

Berlin Brandenburg said on May 8 that its opening would be postponed after tests on a system that removes smoke in the event of fire fell behind schedule. Air Berlin, which will use the airport as its hub, said then it was surprised at the news, as did Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA), Europe’s second-biggest airline, which will operate more than 1,000 weekly flights there.

Work on the fire-safety system will last until December, followed by three months of testing, and the new schedule will avoid the risk of opening during inclement winter weather, airport officials said at a press conference today.

Plans Needed

The timescale presumes that complete and accurate planning documents are delivered by mid-June, Siemens AG (SIE), Robert Bosch GmbH and Imtech NV (IM), which are responsible for various components in the system, said in an e-mailed statement, adding that they support a “speedy” completion of the project.

Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE)’s T-Systems unit was incorrectly identified as involved in installing the mechanism, according to the airport, and isn’t working on the program.

The cost of the disruption is as yet unclear, the airport said. Operations chief Manfred Koertgen will leave and a contract with Planungsgemeinschaft Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg International, responsible for planning, has been terminated. PG BBI couldn’t be reached for comment today, a holiday in Germany.

“We know that we need to win back confidence that we’ve lost,” Rainer Schwarz, Berlin Brandenburg’s chief executive officer, told journalists, adding that he was not directly to blame for the failure. “We’ve disappointed many partners, not just the airlines but the concessions.”

Compensation

The airport, originally slated for completion in 2011, will have an initial capacity of 27 million passengers annually, with longer-term plans to handle 45 million. Berlin’s existing airports, Tegel and Schoenefeld, will close when it opens.

Air Berlin said there’ll be a significant business impact from the delay and that it might not be able to implement its full flight plan. The no-frills carrier has said it expects to be reimbursed by the airport and owners which include Germany’s federal government, the city of Berlin and state of Brandenburg.

Lufthansa, which has its main hub in Frankfurt and a secondary base in Munich, said in a statement that while the delay is “regrettable,” it’s “only sensible” to open the new airport once arrangements are “stable and safe.”

The carrier will add five planes at Tegel in an effort to accommodate the 500,000 people who have booked onto its planned services from Berlin Brandenburg, spokesman Wolfgang Weber said.

“We know that with the delay of the opening we’ve caused significant disturbance,” Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said at the press conference, adding that he’s “optimistic” passengers will be able to catch booked flights as carriers continue operations from the city’s two existing airports.

Berlin used to have three airports, a by-product of the city’s division during the Cold War, with Schoenefeld serving the eastern part, Tegel the west and Tempelhof, used by the Allies during the Berlin airlift, near the center.

Tempelhof was closed in 2008. Willy Brandt airport was built next to Schoenefeld, and will use one of its runways.

To contact the reporters on this story: Naomi Kresge in Berlin at nkresge@bloomberg.net; Alex Webb in Frankfurt at awebb25@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net; Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net

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