Sometimes, bad news can seem like good news, at least that’s how Berlin’s politicians are responding to the latest updates on bumpy progress at the city’s new airport.
The new management at Berlin’s airport BER is at least being open about the problems the airport is dealing with – in contrast to the hush-ups on delays in the past.
The opening of the German capital’s new airport, originally scheduled for 2012, has so far been delayed four times. Now, it is unclear whether it will even be able to open for business in the latter half of 2017, though this is still widely hoped.
There has been repeated bad news about corruption and incompetence. The chief executive’s latest progress report cautiously indicated that the airport could only open when planned if new construction permits arrive on time. And yet, despite the ongoing uncertainty, the statement was fairly well-received by politicians.
“The management is putting its cards on the table, in contrast to the people in charge beforehand,” said Norbert Brackmann, a member of the governing Christian Democrat party.
The Social Democrats’ transport politician, Andreas Rimkus, who is also a trained electrician, likewise welcomed the management’s new openness. The outlook for the project is “on a good track,” Mr. Rimkus said. He underlined that Berlin “needs the airport.”
“I believe that opening the airport in autumn 2017 is doable and likely.”
The ill-fated airport project is headed by Karsten Mühlenfeld, who took over the operation of Berlin’s airport in February 2015 after his predecessor Hartmut Mehdorn stepped down in 2013.
Originally scheduled to begin operations in 2012, the airport was supposed to replace the city’s other two airports, Tegel in the north-west and Schönefeld in the south- east. But repeated revelations of corruption, political in-fighting and disaster have led many to ask whether the airport can open when planned and some to wonder if it is worth continuing construction at all.
“I expect to be able to meet the deadline,” Mr. Mühlenfeld said on Thursday, to dispel rumors that the airport would again delay its start and open in 2018.
On Friday, a report in Bild, the tabloid with the widest circulation in Germany, stated that further delays were likely. The newspaper attributed this to sources close to the supervisory board, the committee that hires and fires chief executives at German companies, and confirms strategic decisions.
According to the airport’s new management, they are struggling to deal with legacy issues. Mr. Mühlenfeld and his team have had to order new requests for building works to be granted by the local construction authorities, he explained.“If the authorities allow these permits by February then it is possible that the airport will go into business by 2017,” a CDU politician quoted Mr. Mühlenfeld.
Without these permits, it seems, the airport’s opening will again be delayed. But like Mr. Mühlenfeld, the shareholders of the company running the airport, Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg, are hopeful about the outlook for the opening of the airport in 2017.
“I believe that opening the airport in autumn 2017 is do-able and probable,” the airport’s co-ordinator Engelbert Lütke told Handelsblatt. However, he also added that “no new delays” should occur.
The other problem that Mr. Mühlenfeld disclosed to parliamentarians on Thursday is that a defrosting and de-icing facility is needed at the start of the runway. Originally this facility was to be placed right at the terminal but this could cause the airplanes to freeze and be covered in snow by the time they hit the runway. The authorities will also need to approve this request.
Time is of the essence at BER because the airport needs to start making money. The shareholders expect the airport to be financially profitable by 2020 – but delays too are likely for this date if planes don’t start taking off in 2017.