When the UK departs the European Union in 2019, Berlin will replace London as the continent’s largest city and it will perhaps have a brand new airport to celebrate that standing, although we should perhaps still mention that with a whisper.
The Berlin Brandenburg Airport story cannot by explained any more positively than a debacle. Originally planned to accept its first flights in 2012, it is now tentatively scheduled to open in 2018, but that date has yet to be rubber-stamped as further issues suggest there could be a slip into 2019. In fact, one former project planner on the build has even suggested that the airport may never open due to complications involved in rebuilding its fire safety systems.
What this has left is a fast-developing aviation market with limited capacity. The planned opening of Brandenburg at the start of the decade was due to be delivered as part of a well-though our plan to meet an expected rise in traffic into Germany’s capital city. This saw the inner city Tempelhof Airport closed in 2008 leaving Schoenefeld Airport, the former gateway into the old East Germany and located adjacent to the proposed new facility and Tegel Airport to handle Berlin’s traffic.
At the time of Templehof’s closure air passenger traffic levels were sustainable at around 21 million annual passengers. This is relatively small for a major European capital, but Germany is a much more geo-economically diversified country than others on the Continent: its financial centre is located in Frankfurt (whose main airport is also the national hub), much of its manufacturing is in the rich Land (state) of Bavaria in the south, and the major ports (Hamburg, Bremerhaven) are in the north.
In the years that have followed demand has literally taken off as Berlin has become an increasingly popular business and leisure destination. With growing LCC interest, particularly from easyJet which has built a notable base out of Schoenefeld, the city’s passenger numbers have shot up to more than 32.8 million annual passengers in 2016.
CHART – Annual Departures Seats from Berlin (2007 – 2017)Source: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG Schedules Analyser
Capacity is now a key challenge in the Berlin airport system as it is becoming hard to keep up with growth. The aviation marketing team at Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH (a joint venture of the Länder (states) of Berlin and Brandenburg, each of which own 37%, with the Federal Republic, through its Finance and Transport departments, owning the remaining 26% of the equity), which manages the Berlin airports says they continue to accommodate all received flight requests and are working on expansion projects to increase capacity.
Significant issues remain for Berlin. If Brandenburg does open at the end of the decade, its long delay means its initial 27 million passengers per annum capacity will no longer be sufficient to meet demand. The plan was for both Schoenefeld and Tegel to close shortly after it came online, but that now appears unlikely with a number of airlines now pushing for Tegel to remain open.