Still basking in the afterglow of the 2009 celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany's capital is in the midst of a tourism boom. Arriving just in time to handle increased arrivals, the city's new Berlin Brandenburg Airport is set to open in 2012.
Currently, most international travelers enter the city via Berlin Tegel Airport, which was built during the Berlin airlift and now handles some 15 million arrivals per year. In addition to its inadequate size, Tegel's location near city center, while convenient to public transportation, is increasingly being blamed for noise pollution and other environmental concerns.
Berlin Schoenefeld Airport, about a half-hour outside of town, was the airport for East Berlin during the communist-era division of Germany and now serves EasyJet, Ryanair and other low-cost carriers. Schoenefeld also is groaning at the seams, having served more than 7 million passengers last year, a boost of 7.4% over 2009.
Brandenburg will replace both airports -- along with Templehof Airport, which closed in 2008 in anticipation of the opening of the new airport -- more than doubling overall passenger capacity.
Tourism officials agree the change can't come soon enough.
Consider the numbers: In 2010, Berlin airports served more than 22 million passengers overall, representing a steady annual increase of about 6.4% in recent years. Eighty-eight airlines served the city's airports in 2010, with flights to 171 destinations in more than 50 countries, including nonstop services from New York.
Construction on Brandenburg has been in the works since 2006 at the Schoenefeld Airport site, and officials anticipate a starting capacity of 27 million passengers annually at its June 2012 kickoff. Eventually, the airport will be able to handle 45 million passengers.
Because the city has had the luxury of being able to build the airport from the ground up, planners have had a chance to study what works and what doesn't in other European hubs.
Designed to be user-friendly, Brandenburg will feature one central terminal between two parallel runways, with all flights, whether international or domestic, located within easy walking distance of each other.
In addition, the baggage handling system was designed to process up to 15,000 suitcases an hour.
Ground transport to the city will depart from an underground railway station that can also accommodate high-speed trains to other destinations.
Finally, the airport was designed to incorporate the latest green technology and to exceed current aircraft noise regulations.
Air Berlin spreads wings
Of the airlines slated to operate out of Brandenburg, Air Berlin is especially poised to profit from the new hub. The carrier, which is in the process of joining the Oneworld alliance, will not only be the largest presence at the airport but will benefit from its new alliance with American Airlines and British Airways, among others, to expand its global reach.
Air Berlin launched four weekly nonstop flights between Berlin and New York Kennedy in May. The service will run year-round.
"The nonstop flight from Berlin to New York is another important step, both in view of the opening of the new BBI Airport and Air Berlin's full membership in the Oneworld aviation alliance, which is planned for the start of 2012," said Joachim Hunold, Air Berlin's chief executive.
"By working with our partner American Airlines, we can link our hubs on both sides of the Atlantic and achieve a major increase in our services using codeshare flights," he said.
The carrier is also increasing the number of nonstop flights it operates between Dusseldorf and New York Kennedy from five flights a week to daily service.
Nonstop service from Miami to Berlin has been operating on Air Berlin since November, and flights to Germany from Fort Myers, Fla.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Vancouver also are available.
Seat and in-flight entertainment upgrades also are in the works on transatlantic flights, starting in November.
To encourage passengers to consider using Berlin as an international hub, Air Berlin is offering a Europe Pass for those who have booked transatlantic travel with Air Berlin or one of its airline partners. The Europe pass enables travelers to fly to an additional four European cities within 13 countries for $249, including all taxes. The pass is valid through Sept. 30.
For more information, visit www.berlin-airport.de and www.airberlin.com.