The brand new Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport was scheduled to open in less than a month, replacing the Tegel and Schönefeld airports which were slated to close on the day of the Willy Brandt opening.
They will now remain open until the – unspecified – day when the new airport is ready.
“It is unclear when the airport will be opened, whether in August or in September. Security comes first,” said Brandenburg’s state Interior Minister Dietmar Woidke on Tuesday.
The announcement left German air traffic control (DFS) scrambling to inform airlines of the change in plans. Ralph Riedle, DFS manager told the Financial Times Deutschland they were only told on Tuesday.
“We have to tell all those airlines world wide who will be affected, that they will have to change their schedules,” he said. This will be a huge effort, and was “unusual” he said, because of the short-term information policy of the airport operators.
Airport chief Rainer Schwarz admitted he was “bitterly disappointed” said he was now aiming for an opening “after the summer break”, without setting a date.
He was joined at a news conference by Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit and Brandenburg state premier Matthias Platzeck, who said he could not deny that he was “furious” about the shock announcement.
“This is not a good day for Berlin-Brandenburg airport, the citizens of our states and the many visitors to our region,” Wowereit added.
“You can imagine that we did everything possible in the last few months to try to achieve an opening date of June 3.”
The massive construction project has been dogged by delays and the original opening scheduled for 2007 has already been pushed back several times.
This time the problems were with the fire escape system, such as warnings and door closure systems, Woidke said.
“For that reason, a safety approval cannot be granted. They are not there yet,” he said.
Insiders at Lufthansa, which has been planning to increase its flights in and out of the German capital through the new airport, said it needed a functioning airport in Berlin.
There was some understanding for the delay at the airline’s annual general meeting in Cologne on Tuesday.
“The kind of chaos that was seen at London Heathrow cannot be repeated in Berlin,” a high-ranking Lufthansa official said, referring to the 2008 public relations disaster that was the opening of the Heathrow fifth terminal.
The new Berlin airport is set to cost at least €2.5 billion and has required a new stretch of motorway as well as a rail extension and new station. It has been designed to deal with around 27 million passengers a year.
This latest delay is far from the first for the mega project, but must surely be the most embarrassing – the capital is plastered with posters advertising the June opening, which now will not be happening.