On the November 25th Airlines Confidential podcast former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza and journalist Seth Kaplan discussed delays in finally opening the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Requests for proposals to build this airport went out in 1997, and it was finally completed in 2020.
Keying off of a listener note, they talked about:
- Not listening to airlines: Lufthansa said from the start they had no intention of hubbing in Berlin, so why build an airport optimized as a connecting hub?
- Not building in flexibility: such as for airport retail or changing security needs
Credit, Muns, via Wikimedia Commons
And Baldanza talked about airports either being too expensive or on their way to being too expensive. That’s largely true when airports stray from their core mission as places you go to get somewhere. An airport should be easy to get to, it should be easy to get through, and should be designed for efficient takeoffs and landings in order to avoid delays.
To be sure you’re going to have high-end retail when there’s new construction or renovations, but that’s just to pay for the construction and renovations.
Passengers are the product, not the customerss, and that’s why airlines like Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare have removed people movers that help passengers get through the terminal quickly and easily. They also caused passengers to bypass shops along the way. Pricy retail means high rents to the airport, which generally take a percentage of sales off the top as well.
But I think Baldanza and Kaplan miss something more fundamental about mistakes made in turning the old East Berlin Schoenefeld airport into the new gateway for Berlin: that the project was just badly managed by the local government there.
After contracting disputes, the government walked away from private contracts to build the airport in 2003, and instead handed out 30-40 contracts to smaller companies and decided to oversee the project itself – which they lacked the expertise to do – instead of hiring an experienced design-build firm responsible for delivering on a budget. The airport didn’t just take 23 years, it came in at triple the cost too.
Credit: Muns, via Wikimedia Commons
The government taking the lead to manage the project is a costly reminder of East German-style planning. It’s almost as if David Hasselhof never stood atop the Berlin Wall belting out “Looking for Freedom” in 1989, on the precipice of East Germans finally gaining their freedom.