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Troubled Berlin Airport Gets New Chief as Prestige Project Slips

Berlin’s new capital airport, beset by opening delays and cost overruns, named Hartmut Mehdorn as its new chief, recruiting a manager who built his reputation on turnarounds from the national railway to an ailing airline.

Mehdorn, who fills a post that’s been vacant since January, wants to rebuild trust with the airline customers, he said today at a press conference in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she wished Mehdorn well in his “complex” new task managing the so-called Berlin Brandenburg Airport.

“Berlin needs an airport, and that’s why we have to do everything so that this airport is completed as quickly as possible,” Merkel told reporters today in Munich.

The new airport, located southeast of the capital city near the footprint of the current Schoenefeld site, was supposed to start operating last June, a date that has been pushed back several times as construction and planning faults emerged. A new date hasn’t been identified and costs have more than doubled to 4.3 billion euros ($5.5 billion) from 2006, when construction started, Der Spiegel said in January.

Mehdorn stepped down from Air Berlin Plc, Germany’s second-largest carrier, this year after initiating a turnaround. He previously ran Deutsche Bahn AG, the national railway, where he presided over large-scale infrastructure projects including the new main train terminus in Berlin and high-speed rail links across the country.

Berlin has been forced to extend the lifespan of its Tegel airport in the western part of the city, which is running out of capacity. Tegel was originally built for fewer than 10 million passengers, and now serves twice that amount each year.

Carriers including Air Berlin and Deutsche Lufthansa AG have built new facilities at the Berlin Brandenburg airport, and airlines are in negotiations with the operator how to recoup some of the losses incurred by the delays. Germany’s biggest airport is in Frankfurt.

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