April 19, 2021

Why Berlin’s 15-Year-Old Airport has Never Had a Flight


Berlin’s airports weren’t the best! And this all dates back to WWII, after which a wall was built to split the city in two. Tegel airport is worse rated on Google than the nearby prison and Schönefeld, meanwhile, is worse rated that Aleppo airport, which is in an active war-zone.

Given that, there were the airports for West Berlin, Tempelhof and Tegal, and there was the airport for East Berlin, Schönefeld. Later on, after the wall came down, the city had three airports, one of which closed down in 2008. This was inefficient, so they decided to build a big one. After many committees and conferences and comments, they decided on a site – the South of the old Schönefeld airport, so that way they could use one of the old runways.

Fast forward to 2012, the airport was nearly finished so Berlin got ready for a massive moving operation. But as it was all just about to happen until 26 days before moving the opening was delayed. Now,  in 2019, the Berlin Brandenburg Airport is still nowhere near opening. Here’s why – Construction began on September 5, 2006. By 2011, the airport was looking enough like an airport to start testing it.

Although over 10,000 volunteers participated in the testing, the German inspectors were especially concerned with making sure the airport’s fire alarm and suppression system was great, given that only 15 years earlier the worst airport fire had destroyed much of Dusseldorf airport. So, they stimulated a fire by releasing smoke. Some alarms went off, many did not, some others went off but in the completely wrong part of the building. It was also found that the vents built to suck out smoke just simply didn’t work and would likely implode in a real fire. In conclusion, the airport’s fire system was a complete failure. The project managers desperately wanted to open on time, so they proposed instead of having an alarm system, they would hire 800 low-paid workers to stand around the terminal and act as, “fire spotters.” but the inspectors said, “Hell Nein.”

26 days before opening, the airport’s opening was delayed. And this went on for the following years, as they just couldn’t fix the fire system. More issues occurred as well – there weren’t enough check-in desks for the expected passenger numbers, 4,000 donors were numbered incorrectly, and for a period in 2015 construction workers weren’t even allowed in the building because they were worried the roof could collapse. Another huge issue in 2017 ways that the airport acting as a hub airport to connect European passengers from flight to flight failed. All the financial calculations were based on this. And the big problem was that there was only one airline with a hub in Berlin – Air Berlin – which in late 2017 became insolvent and shut down.

The delays and their implications have become comical at this point – in 2018, the airport had to replace 750 screens for departure boards at a cost of more than $500,000 since they had left them on continuously for 6-years and they had reached the end of their service lives. In 2019, the fire suppression system is still not working and the current official opening date of October 2020 is looking unrealistic. Some have even suggested that the airport will never open and will just be torn down completely.

Inside, though, the airport still sits there looking close to brand new but yet completely non-functional – a modern, $8.5 billion airport that has never had a single passenger.