BER Eyes Expansion, While its Launch Has Been Postponed Again

Have you ever been sandwiched in life, feeling like a tightly canned sardine? If not, take a flight to Berlin once the city’s trouble-ridden BER International is online – if ever. We bet you will surely enjoy this very special experience.

Still unfinished but already undersized: Berlin’s plagued BER Airport
Still unfinished but already undersized: Berlin’s plagued BER Airport

Gosh! The news, posted recently by agencies, is reminiscent of a fairy tale: “BER welcomed first passengers.” The explanation to this miracle: traffic controllers had deviated a number of aircraft from Berlin Tegel to Schoenefeld and BER because a rusty WW2 bomb, excavated near busy TXL Airport, had to be deactivated, posing a risk to air traffic.

Too little right from the start
Another risk results from BER’s outdated masterplan. Developed ages ago, it is based on the assumption that the terminal building and the facilities must be able to accommodate a maximum of 22 million air travelers per year. The BER facility planning was based on this long-term estimate of passenger development, tabled by air traffic “experts” and applauded by local politicians.
A blatant misjudgment, shown by the 32.9 million passengers that landed or departed 2016 at the Berlin airports. With two of them, Tegel and Schoenefeld, facing closure once BER is operational, a fate Tempelhof was already hit by. In view of this poor planning, it doesn’t need much phantasy to predict that daily chaos which will prevail at BER once the airport is finally online.
This will be the case in Q4 of 2019, announced operator Flughafen Berlin-Brandenburg GmbH two days ago, eight years after the initial launching date. It remains to be seen if this prediction will become a reality.

Air traffic forecasts might have helped
The single airport concept, tabled two decades ago, was and still is a politically motivated plan to ease thousands of Berliners from aviation noise they are constantly exposed to due to the downtown proximity of Tegel airport and – above all – to get broad public support for the BER project, thus letting politicians off the hook. What sounded fairly convincing years ago, has turned into a major problem today, evidenced by the constant upswing of air traffic in Germany’s largest city of 4 million dwellers. A glance at the data proves that aviation in Berlin sets one record after another, despite the recent insolvency of Air Berlin with other players filling the resulting gap very soon. 

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BER – phase II
Confronted with the sardine can situation users will inevitably face at undersized BER, Managing Director Engelbert Luetke Daldrup presented brand new expansion plans, aimed at upping the still unfinished airport’s capacity from 22 million to 55 million passengers per year by 2035. The measures required to realize phase II will cost €2.3 billion, he announced, slightly more than a third of the overall project. An additional terminal stands on the agenda as do pier enlargements or the expansion of the baggage sorting system.
The good news is that all works are covered by the existing construction permit, assured the manager. “We do not need a new plan approval procedure, which saves us years.” He further announced that the intended expansion would be structurally completely different from the construction plans the original BER concept is based on.

Learning the hard way
Luetke Daldrup added to this that a general constructor would be responsible for building the future facilities, relieving the airport company from any liabilities. The facilities will be “high-quality industrial buildings,” the manager stated. "They will look much more attractive than the extensions in Tegel and Schoenefeld.” In contrast to the yet unfinished BER facilities the manager advocated easy-to-build constructions, while opposing complex technical solutions.
So when examining the enlargement plans closer it seems that the BER management has learned from the damage already caused. However, this won’t ease the fate of passengers arriving at or departing from BER. They will experience the charm, of physical nearness of other travelers and ground staff right from the day the first aircraft take off and land at BER until the expansion is completed in 2035 – if not later. 

Heiner Siegmund

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