One year on | Why was Berlin Brandenburg Airport such a failure?

On the 31st October 2020, Berlin Brandenburg airport (Commonly known as BER) opened to the german public and international flights. This airport was internationally renowned to be a failure for years, but what caused it to get its reputation?

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During the Cold war, Berlin was divided into 2 parts, West and East Berlin. After the erection of the Berlin wall in the 1960s, West Berliners were no longer allowed into east Berlin and surrounding Germany as it was owned by the Soviets; so if they wanted to get anywhere outside of Berlin they would have to fly, mainly using the airport of Tegel. The wall was built to keep the East Berliners from leaving to the west, so they couldn’t use Tegel and instead built their own airport, Schönefeld. After the collapse of the Berlin wall on the 9th of November 1989, the city still had two airports. Berlin’s idea was to build one big airport on the site of Schönefeld and then use that as a gateway to connections to Europe and other destinations across the world.

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AP Explore | Berlin Wall 25th Anniversary
A map of Berlin divided by its wall from the 1960s to 1989 (Credit: ap.org)
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However, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Because the airport was being built on the site of Schönefeld, all Berlin flights were routed through Tegel. Soon, the airport was close to being ready to open and Berlin was very excited. A grand moving ceremony was planned, all the equipment from Tegel was to be moved to the new airport and major motorways would be closed off to make this possible. Meanwhile, mass tests were taking place at the new airport, and after a simulated fire, it was discovered that the Fire alarm system was horribly out of order.

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Some alarms went off, others did not and whilst trying to fix the wiring causing this problem, it was discovered that that itself was a fire hazard. Then the airport staff came up with the not-so-genius idea of employing 800 so called “fire spotters” on low pay to patrol the airport looking for fire. Of course, that idea was vetoed and the authorities just didn’t know what to do. Various other faults were discovered like how there wouldn’t be enough check in spaces for the estimated number of passengers and for a brief period in 2015, some workers weren’t even allowed in the building as people were worried the roof of the airport might collapse. In 2018, Brandenburg replaced a large number of arrival and departure boards for a large cost because they had been running for 6 years straight and run out of life. Berlin Brandenburg had been sat empty, looking brand new and so close to opening, for 8 years.

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Berlin Brandenburg: The airport with half a million faults - BBC News
An image of BER completely empty (Credit : bbc.co.uk)
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But then, somehow, the airport managed to get it together and a new opening date was released to be October 2020. The time had finally arrived and the grand operation had began. The last flight took off from Tegel and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel was said to be at BER’s opening ceremony. The first two commercial flights arrived, an easyJet A320neo and a Lufthansa A320neo. After a long 12 years of anticipation and despair, Berlin’s brand new Brandenburg airport was finally open.

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Sources

  • Wikipedia.com
  • halfasinteresting.com
  • twitter.com (Cover image)
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Published by Sam Jakobi (Sam the avgeek)

I am a young Avgeek who has been interested in aviation since the age of around 3 or 4. I run a very small youtube channel in which I review flights and explain common things in the aviation industry.

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