Berlin Brandenburg airport – the ‘new airport’ – was supposed to open in 2012. Now they’re saying 2020. The new terminal has just been sitting there, waiting, for 9 years. So has the rail station and the airport hotel.
At the time a fire official determined that Berlin Brandenburg airport automated fire doors weren’t functioning properly. That should have been a relatively quick issue to address, but the project has spiraled out of control since then — and it was already 3-5 years late.
Redesign of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport Got Out of Control
The punch list for Berlin Brandenburg airport ballooned to 550,000 items. The original $2.6 billion project is now projected to cost $8.25 billion. The BBC identifies poor planning as the culprit:
- Not enough retail in the original design. Airports love retail for generating revenue, taking in not just least payments but a cut of sales. It seems unlikely, however, that the increased revenue stream redesigning for shopping will recoup the costs to… redesign for shopping.
- Berlin Brandenburg airport was designed to accommodate Airbus A380s but not spartan low cost carriers, and that’s since been shifted.
- It was determined that Berlin Brandenburg airport needed to be bigger, to accommodate twice as many passengers as originally planned.
Credit, Muns, via Wikimedia Commons
Local Politicians Tried to Manage the Project Themselves
But why did German planners get these things wrong, and go back to spend so much more money? Aviation Policy News says the project actually went bad in the late 90s.
The government had planned for the conversion of the old East Berlin Schoenefeld airport to be done privately. Requests for proposal went out in 1997, twenty two years ago. In 1998 a winner was announced, but litigation held up the project for two years until both finalists agreed to work together.
- The companies would put up $290 million up front
- They’d finance $1.7 billion in construction costs
- The local government would cover $600 million
The government walked away from the deal in 2003, declaring it “not good enough” and they decided to go it alone. At this point opening of the airport was pushed back from 2007 to 2009.
The government handed out “30 to 40 contracts to smaller companies” instead of hiring an experience design build firm committing to deliver on a budget. Costs have more than tripled, and at best we’ll now see the airport next year.
As Aviation Policy News‘s Robert Poole concludes,
Political hubris led to cancelling a nearly-finalized agreement under which private investors with airport experience would have made sensible decisions about terminal size, changing trends in airline service, and the importance of revenue from extensive retail (as was already very evident from BAA’s huge retail expansion at Heathrow and Gatwick). And the investors—not German taxpayers—would have taken on the risks of cost overruns and schedule delays.
Credit: Muns, via Wikimedia Commons
Berlin Brandenburg is Now a Ghost Airport
In the meantime the train station runs one ghost train a day “to keep the air moving.” The airport hotel has had staff for years “forlornly dusting rooms and turning on taps to keep the water supply moving.”
Baggage carousels run each day to prevent them from seizing up. Departure and arrival boards consume energy, showing flights from other airports. Some of the screens have already worn out and been replaced.
In 1989 David Hasselhof stood atop the Berlin Wall belting out “Looking for Freedom.” Less than a year later East Germans were finally free. 31 years later East Berlin’s old airport may finally be freed as the new Berlin Brandenburg airport but is a costly reminder of East German-style planning. That’s a lesson that New York could stand to learn, too.