It is pretty much an open and shut case… At the press conference on 27NOV20, less than a month after the massively delayed inauguration of the “new” Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt (BER) airport on 31OCT20, the message is one accompanied by “ambivalent feelings” as Engelbert Lütke Daldrup put it. On the one hand, the “successful” start-up of BER operations, yet almost in the same breath, the pending closures of T5 and the Südbahn (Southern Runway).
Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, CEO of Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH (FBB) summarized the conference: “2021 will be one of the most difficult years in the history of FBB.” [Bearing in mind,
it will also be the first complete year of BER operations, bg] “No airport in Germany will be able to cover its operating costs with the projected passenger figures. FBB is hitting the second
corona wave in a situation where we could have made our way out of the red. Now only two things help: the willingness of our shareholders to stand by us in the crisis and the commitment of FBB to
work as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. With a joint effort, we will succeed in positioning BER well for the economic recovery of Eastern Germany.”
An optimistic assumption given the critical situation the airport already found itself prior opening, and one that contrasts the long list of cost-cutting measures the airport has and will be implementing.
Shutting down the Southern Runway
First up, alongside the employment-freeze and short-term work that is already in place and will continue throughout 2021, is the closure of the Südbahn, BER’s Southern Runway. It will be removed from the network on 01DEC20. Though Lütke-Daldrup could not quantify the projected cost savings, it will mean that around 50 employees involved in fire services and operations, will not be required for the duration of the closure.
Another Berlin airport bites the dust (temporarily)
With the opening of BER, “Schönefeld Alt” (SXF – “old” Schönefeld) airport was already demoted to the status of “Terminal 5” (whilst being one of only 2 terminals in operation, despite a total of 3 actually existing. Whether new T2 will open as planned in Summer 2021, also looks bleak, however.) From Spring 2021, T5 is now due to be closed for the period of one year, though the decision if and when to reopen it, will be taken in a year’s time, when it is clearer what kind of traffic volumes can be expected. FBB hopes to save between €20-25 million from 2021 through this closure.
T5 is where BER’s Express (cargo) Center is located. Here, FedEx’s and UPS’ pure freighters are handled, along with Red Cross emergency freighters. No doubt, the closure of T5 will make daily life of all those involved in Express cargo handling a little more uncomfortable when it comes to taking food/coffee breaks, for example. More traffic on the roads as they head over to T1. Meanwhile SXF joins TXL in the airport graveyard: 2 Berlin airports closed in the space of half a year.
Pay double for the trouble
Instead of the projected 20% passenger traffic, FBB announced this was closer to 10% and while 2020 would see a total of 9.1 million passengers (in contrast to the roughly 36 million last year), the prognosis for 2021 was still only around 10 million. Though the company was positive about managing cost-savings of around €70-75 million though its measures, the fact remains that it will depend on sponsors and Covid-19 financial aid in the region of around €660 million. Despite all that, FBB is still optimistic about breaking even in 2025.
One thing FBB was immensely proud of was the number of airport tourists visiting the viewing terrace: 6,000 people a day, was the number quoted. When asked if admission should be charged, FBB
admitted they would be doing so from JAN21 onwards: €3/person. How the German Burghers will react to this fee, given that their tax money is already paying for the privilege, remains to be seen.
Yet, that potential half-million euro/month will go a tiny way towards filling the huge black hole of debt.
Not a word about cargo
BER is all about the passengers – or more to the point, as mentioned above, the airport tourists, it seems. When CFG reported on the opening back on 01NOV20 (https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2020/11/01/the-logistics-behind-the-moving-of-logistics-to-ber/), BER’s intention, as published on its website, was to actively increase its share of the 100,000-ton cargo potential within a 3-hour radius around Berlin, as well as cash in on its proximity to Poland from a Road Feeder Service point of view, and eyeing Asian air cargo traffic as a profitable possibility. At the same time, however, in a cargo-rich pandemic, BER has lost over a third of its cargo tonnage. The reason may well be the top management focus – not a word was lost on cargo, nor was cargo represented at the 27NOV20 press conference.
And yet, cargo would likely bring in more cash than the airport tourists…
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