Berlin Airport Debate is Heating up

The German capital is divided again. Not by a new wall parting the city - thank goodness - but a controversy over the question how the future airport landscape should be shaped. The proposals range from a single airport solution to a triple package.

To be or not to be? The Berliners will decide on 24 September on the future of Tegel.
To be or not to be? The Berliners will decide on 24 September on the future of Tegel.

On 24 September the German electorate will be called to the polls to decide on the country’s future government. Simultaneously, the adults among the roughly 4 million Berliners can participate in a plebiscite initiated by parties and interest groups to keep Tegel Airport (TXL) open even after the launch of the trouble-ridden Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER). Plans tabled by initiates go even further, advocating building a third airport since passenger numbers in the fast growing German capital are rapidly climbing along with cargo volumes.

The rift goes straight across the parties
Strongest supporter of the single airport bill is the coalition of Social Democrats and former Commis Die Linke (The Left) ruling the city of Berlin. This position is basically in line with the policy of the Federal Government, except for Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt. In accord with Berlin’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the local Liberal Party (FDP) Dobrindt favours a dual system with Tegel maintaining its status even after conflict-ridden Berlin Brandenburg International (BER) has been launched, which realistically will not be before 2019 – if at all. However, the dualist approach is in direct opposition to formal political decisions, demanding the closure of Tempelhof (accomplished already) and Tegel after air traffic flows at BER. 

Positive Tegel feelings
However, the wind in Berlin seems to have changed. As current surveys show, there are good chances that the pro Tegel initiative might succeed on 24 September. This partially, because of historic reasons and positive emotional aspects associated with Tegel. After all, the airfield, built within 90 days in 1948 during the Soviet blockade of Berlin, helped in combination with former Tempelhof Airport, to keep the city alive through the 15 months lasting “Luftbruecke” (Air Bridge). The challenge was extreme since the then 2.2 million Berliners, cut off entirely from supplies provided formerly by the city’s hinterlands, had to be supplied with nutrition, beverages, medical goods but also coal or gasoline. This was accomplished through a never ending stream of DC-3 “candy bombers” capable of carrying up to 9 tons of goods per flight. Back in those days, 538,000 tons of foodstuff were flown by the U.S. military forces and Britain’s Royal Air Force to West Berlin to prevent the free part of the city having to surrender to Stalin.

Easily accessible
So far the nostalgic aspect speaking in favour of Tegel. Today, many Berliners appreciate the fact that TXL is only 11 kilometers distant from the city centre, thus easy to access by travelers and cargo providers. In contrast, BER is located outside the city boundaries, resulting in much longer journeys for Berliners when taking a flight. Last year, 21.2 million passengers utilized TXL (+11 percent y-o-y) and 38,000 tons of air freight were recorded (+8 percent) by the operator. The numbers have gone up year after year. 
The main rational trump card up the Tegel supporter’s sleeve is – ironically – BER, not only because of the geographical distance compared to TXL. Once operational, 22 million passengers can be accommodated there. Many more don’t fit since the original concept with twice a large capacity was downscaled and halved. In view of the continuous air traffic growth, the miniaturization of BER was an awkward decision made by the planning people and supported by Berlin’s Senate in accord with the Merkel government. Obviously, the politicians have ignored forecasts predicting strong growth of passenger numbers and cargo volumes. The single airport supporter’s main point: Tegel, although in operation since 1948, is an impertinence for the dwellers living in the heavily populated district due to the noise produced by aircraft and their greenhouse gas emissions. Further the Tegel naysayers argue, running two airports that are 32 kilometers apart is poison for transit traffic and much too expensive.  

Plebiscite is not binding
In the meantime, Berlin’s Mayor Michael Mueller (Social Democrats) reacted rather peeved to the pro Tegel supporters, stating that the outcome of the referendum is not binding. The political decision to shut down Tegel after Berlin Brandenburg International went online is irrevocable, Mueller stated, thus stubbornly defending his coalition’s position.

“Stop thinking in categories of the last century,” Ryanair!
Words acknowledged by Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer Kenny Jacobs with disbelief and stunned disapproval. Berlin doesn’t need one or two airports but a third to complement BER and TXL he stated, thus pouring even more oil onto the fire. His point: Passenger numbers are expected to reach 90 million in 2050. In view of the BER disaster, the airport should have gone online years ago, Berlin's politicians would be well advised to better start planning a third airport rather sooner than later to accommodate the expected avalanche of travelers and prevent the city from being cut off in passenger and cargo traffic. “Stop thinking as in the last century,” Jacobs recommended, addressing the city’s government directly.
Last year, Berlin Airports Tegel and Schoenefeld (which will become part of BER once operational) welcomed a combined 33 million passengers and handled 47,000 tons of cargo. 

Heiner Siegmund

Write a comment

Comments: 0