Berlin airport operator Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg again appears to be delaying the opening date for the new Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BBI).
The opening of Berlin Brandenburg has been delayed four times—with the last suspension, in spring 2012, announced just weeks before airport was scheduled to launch operations—but in July CEO Hartmut Mehdorn said he would detail an opening schedule in October. However, Mehdorn now is telling local media that he will announce a date within the next two to three months, or perhaps even later. “We are not under pressure to perform,” he says.
Under the latest plan, Mehdorn plans an advance opening of the north pier of the new terminal, for a maximum of 10 daily flights. He hopes that this will help to test the facility before operations are fully ramped-up. But, even that move requires significant investment, as the pier has no security checkpoints and no check-in facilities.
The decision also is subject to regulatory approvals, which may prove to be problematic. If these are granted, the building could in be operation starting around spring 2014.
BBI’s completion has been delayed by a variety of factors. The planning process was disrupted when the airport operator fired the consultants in charge halfway through the process. Then, local authorities did not approve of the fire protection system. When other changes were needed, it became evident that because of the convoluted planning process, the state of completion and what work had already been performed was often unclear. In the past year, little additional construction work has occurred. Instead, some of what already had been built had to be torn down for inspections.
Following the 2012 fiasco, a new executive board was installed, but that does not mean that the problems are resolved. To get things back on track, the airport operator hired Horst Amann—a Fraport executive who managed the building of Frankfurt Airport’s fourth runway on time and under budget—as chief operating officer. Mehdorn, who once headed, was named to run the company earlier this year, but insiders say the executive board now is deeply divided about future initiatives. While Mehdorn argues part of the airport should be opened as soon as possible, Amann argues that larger parts of the operation should be moved elsewhere, but at a later date.
Mehdorn allegedly is accusing Amann of being responsible for the past year of inactivity on the construction site.
While spring 2014 now seems to be the earliest possible date for limited operations at the north pier the real full-blown airport opening is unlikely before sometime in 2015.
Modifications to the fire protection system are expected to take until at least late 2014 to implement, and even if that process coincides with the completion of all other outstanding work, months of testing would have to follow before the facility could open.
Separately, the resignation of Brandenburg’s prime minister, Matthias Platzeck, will require the airport operator to look for another chairman of the board. The supervisory board may approach ex-Fraport CEO Wilhelm Bender for the role, insiders say. Bender also has been a candidate for the airport CEO role, but turned down an offer before Mehdorn was named.
As a result of the chaos surrounding the new Berlin airport, airlines will continue to operate out of Tegel and Schoenefeld airports for the foreseeable future. That is a particular problem at Tegel, which has been operating beyond its design capacity for years and has used temporary terminals to ease congestion. Tegel also is ill-suited for connecting traffic that home carrier Air Berlin has been heavily promoting, based on the assumption that it could operate from the much-larger Brandenburg International.