Felicity Long
Felicity Long

Along with the new year come new predictions about the long-awaited, much ballyhooed Berlin Brandenburg Airport. At the risk of sounding like the boy who cried wolf, the airport's supervisory board is once again offering an anticipated start date, this time in the fall of 2020.

For those of you not obsessed with this saga, which has been going on for over a decade, here is a review.
The airport, which was originally set to replace Berlin's Tegel and Schoenefeld airports, both overburdened and long in the tooth, has had what can euphemistically be described as a rocky road to completion.

The original grand opening was set for 2010, and back then the airport designers were giddy with optimism. The facility was projected to be able to handle a whopping 27 million passengers a year, accomplished with all kinds of environmentally friendly bells and whistles.

Given that in 2017, more than 33 million passengers passed through Schoenefeld and Tegel combined, the current plan is to open BER and decommission Tegel but also to expand Schoenefeld to help deal with the swelling numbers of passengers traveling to and through Berlin.

In all, Berlin airports serve 195 destinations, including Air Canada Rouge's new Toronto service and the return of Delta Air Lines' direct service to New York. Also in 2017, LOT Polish Airlines operated Berlin/Warsaw flights, and Icelandair reinstated Berlin/Reykjavik service.

Looking ahead to 2018, EasyJet is expanding its domestic service in Tegel this month, and Scoot will offer a new connection to Singapore from the airport starting in June.

That said, 2017 was a "turbulent year," according to Engelbert Lutke Daldrup, CEO of Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg, which operates Berlin's airports.

"We had months with double-digit growth but also a total collapse in March due to strikes, amongst other things," he said in a statement. "After Airberlin's termination of air traffic, the flight numbers in Tegel sank massively."

The fact that overall passenger numbers continued to grow despite these setbacks, "highlights both how attractive Berlin/Brandenburg is as a destination and the huge commitment of the airports' staff, who have provided a reliable service, regardless of circumstance," Dalrup said.

There's no question that a successful launch of Berlin Brandenburg would be a game changer for the region. It would immediately become Germany's third-busiest airport,  surpassing Dusseldorf, and, because it is located just over 10 miles from Berlin's city center, would provide easy access to travelers looking to explore the city and surrounding region. Thanks to connections via Lufthansa, EasyJet and GermanWings, the airport would also provide an attractive option for those en route to central and eastern European destinations.

Unfortunately, for years the project was plagued by construction and permit delays to the point that by 2013 the whole enterprise seemed mired in quicksand.

Eventually the second half of 2017 was floated as as a target date, but the announcement was accompanied by so many caveats that I marked it on my calendar in pencil. In fact, the supervisory board at the time came right out and said the 2017 date was more about keeping momentum going rather than an actual promise of a start date.
What has changed about this new target date of October 2020 is that the board is no longer hedging.

Here's what Rainer Bretschneider, chairman of the supervisory board, is now saying: "I am convinced of the validity of the current planning.  Now it will be important to implement the planning properly and purposefully. It's about winning back lost trust."

If the project succeeds, Berlin Brandenburg could be key to making Berlin a hub for travelers looking to explore not only the popular city itself but also for passengers en route to Central and Eastern European destinations. We will be watching the developments with interest -- and with fingers crossed.

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