Berlin airport: Opening further delayed until 2013

Workmen at Berlin Brandenburg Airport (12 May 2012)
Image caption,
The latest delay is seen as a major embarrassment for Berlin city officials

The opening of Berlin's long-awaited new airport has been put back from June probably until March next year, because its fire safety system is not ready.

The delay is seen as a major embarrassment as the project has been beset with postponements and mishaps.

Berlin Brandenburg airport cost 2.5bn euros (£2bn; $3.1bn) to build. Airlines have been selling flight tickets from the airport for months.

Its technical director, Manfred Koertgen, has now been fired.

"In our view, he had problems recognising things in good time," Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said.

When it eventually opens - and the latest opening date is set for 17 March 2013 - the new airport will take over from the capital's ageing Tegel and Schoenefeld airports which date back to the Cold War.

Berlin Brandenburg, also known as Willy Brandt airport after the late West German chancellor, will eventually handle up to 27 million passengers a year, fewer than Frankfurt and Munich.

Lufthansa and Air Berlin had already begun offering flights from the new hub and easyJet is due to fly there too. The new delay is likely to cause considerable cost to the airlines as well as the airport's operators.

'Man-machine interface'

The airport had originally been scheduled to open in late 2011, but that was put back until 3 June 2012. Then it transpired that there was a shortage of check-in desks. Reports also said there was not enough space for baggage handling.

Then, last week, it emerged that its firefighting systems would not be ready in time and the airport would open after the summer. According to news website Spiegel , the airport had proposed a "man-machine interface" which would involve hundreds of temporary workers who would sound the alarms and open doors in the event of a fire.

On Tuesday, Air Berlin Chief Executive Hartmut Mehdorn accepted that the airport should not open until the airlines began their winter schedule.

Two days later, Mr Mehdorn had to digest a further delay. "Through this, we are suffering harm not only to our business, but also to the image of our hub, which is hard to put a figure on," he said.

Mr Wowereit said the authorities were not satisfied with a temporary solution to the fire safety issue; as opening the airport in the winter might add risks related to the weather, the best solution was to wait until March.

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