Felicity Long
Felicity Long

Those of us who have been watching the soap opera drama that is the construction of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) now have new hope that the project is back on track -- sort of.

There was much excitement and fanfare around the projected 2010 debut of the new airport, which will replace Berlin’s two major, but aging, Tegel and Schoenefeld airports.

I did a hardhat tour of the facility in advance of the originally scheduled opening date, and the airport designers were especially proud of its projected passenger capacity of 27 million and the green production methods used in the design.

Unfortunately, construction and permit delays followed -- so many, in fact, that as of 2013 officials had stopped predicting when the project would be complete.

The grand opening, when it does finally happen, will likely be a game changer for Germany. It will position Berlin as a hub for several carriers, including AirBerlin and GermanWings, and its capacity will surpass Dusseldorf’s, currently Germany’s third-busiest airport after Frankfurt and Munich.

Putting Berlin front and center for travelers to Germany makes sense, given the intense interest in the city since the reunification in 1990 and the subsequent spike in visitor numbers since then. The city welcomed more than 28 million people in 2014, a record number that puts it after only London and Paris in terms of visitation.

The new airport is also expected to draw travelers looking to connect through Berlin to Eastern Europe, including increasingly popular destinations like Bucharest, Budapest and Warsaw. Although some have predicted that the airport wouldn’t open until as late as 2019, the latest word is that a target date of the second half of 2017 has been set, despite the fact that all of the required permits have not been approved.

The purpose of sticking to an uncomfortably tight deadline is less about actually promising a 2017 opening date than providing impetus and momentum for the work to aggressively continue, according to the supervisory board overseeing the project.

“Everyone knows that it will be difficult to meet a deadline of opening in the second half of 2017,” said Michael Muller, mayor of Berlin and chairman of the supervisory board, in a statement. “But the decisive question is not the exact date on which we will be opening. If we manage to go online in 2017, the airport company is taking the right approach by investing a great effort in continuing to work on completion. Pressure must not ease off on construction activities during this phase.”

So, in other words, stay tuned.

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