Saturday 24 February 2018

Berliners set to vote on future of 'Cold War' airport

The future of Tegel airport in Berlin is hanging in the balance
The future of Tegel airport in Berlin is hanging in the balance

Richard Weiss

What is it with Berlin and airports? The city, whose new Willy Brandt international is more than six years late with no arrival in sight, is debating whether to keep the Cold War-era Tegel operating even after the new facility opens. That question will be on the ballot in Berlin on September 24 when Germans vote in parliamentary elections.

"Tegel is a prime example of how Berlin's future is being gambled away," said Sebastian Czaja, a local politician who forced the non-binding referendum with a petition drive that collected 250,000 signatures. "Let's keep the one thing that's working in this city."

Czaja's Free Democrat party has made the preservation of Tegel a key issue in its campaign in Berlin, a bold move in a country where there's often resistance to large infrastructure projects. The Greens, meanwhile, have been decrying Tegel as too noisy and polluting.

Construction of the airport, known as BER, started in 2006 and it was to open in 2011. It's since been delayed multiple times, with the price tag doubling to some $6bn. There's no set launch date as problems remain to be fixed in the largely-completed terminal, and the airport won't open before 2019. Air Berlin, which declared itself insolvent last month, has partly blamed its troubles on the delays at BER and its continued reliance on Tegel as a hub.

Proponents of the vote note that with the 2008 shutdown of Tempelhof, the facility where Allied planes landed in the Berlin Airlift, the city's remaining airports - Tegel and Schoenefeld - serve more passengers than BER could handle. The highways and rail lines connecting it to the city can't carry the traffic it will generate, they say, and Tegel is profitable and noise-abatement investments will likely have to be made long before BER opens. Their opponents counter that maintaining two airports is too expensive and that noise and pollution from Tegel expose the city to the risk of lawsuits.


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