Following a decade of road bumps and hiccups, Berlin Brandenburg Airport counts its first week of operations. But has BER finally broken free of its string of setbacks?

In the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, long-delayed Berlin-Brandenburg Willy Brandt (BER) airport celebrated its opening. The first planes were welcomed by water salutes and climate change activists. After some incidents during the first week of operation it was labelled “cursed” by local media. 

BER’s long overdue opening

On October 31, 2020, the first flights, EasyJet EJU3110 and Lufthansa LH2020, landed on the runway carrying the CEOs of both airlines. EasyJet took off from the nearby Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL), which will be closing on November 8, 2020. Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) departed from Munich Airport (MUC) and landed minutes later after EasyJet. Both airlines will be significant users of the new airport.

“Finally we can put our airport into operation”, said the airport CEO Engelbert Lütke Daldrup at the opening ceremony. “It was a long road. It wasn't an easy road. Everyone who is gathered here today knows that so we aren't celebrating a party today. We are just opening”.

The behind-schedule construction of BER was heavily criticized and became a national embarrassment. The airport’s initial opening date was October 30, 2011. After numerous postponements, Berlin was left relying on its outdated and overcrowded Tegel and Schönefeld airports. 

The first flights were also greeted with a protest by climate change activists. Thousands of protesters, dressed in penguin costumes, carried signs saying “Flying is so yesterday”, “BER opening cancelled due to the climate crisis”. The protest, organized by The “Am Boden bleiben” (Stay Grounded) organization, was mainly peaceful. 

Berlin Airport operators

On the first day of operations, November 1, 2020, BER accommodated 23 arrivals and 23 departures, handling a total of 3077 passengers. The majority of these flights were operated by EasyJet, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways. Qatar Airways moved its service from Tegel Airport. 

On November 4, 2020, Qatar Airbus A350XWB landed at Berlin Brandenburg Airport, thus marking the official opening of the second, southern, runway. After landing, the plane was taxied to the gate where it was met with water cannon salutes. The A350-900 was chosen specifically for the occasion. The airline has four weekly flights scheduled from BER. 

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker commented: “I know it has been a difficult road to get here, and I think the wait has truly been worth it… We first began flying to Berlin in 2005. Gradually growing the route as it became one of our most popular destinations. While we had to temporarily suspend services due to COVID-19, our commitment to Berlin and to Germany has remained as strong as ever”.

Eurowings was the first airline in the Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) group to start flights from the new airport. It operated its first three flights on November 4, 2020. At 6:20am, flights EW8058 to Cologne and EW8000 to Stuttgart took off, followed by flight EW8040 to Düsseldorf at 6:30am. Eurowings plans to launch more flights from BER in spring 2021.

“No other airline in Germany flies more tourists to Berlin than Eurowings. That is why we are going to expand here in the future”, said Eurowings CEO Jens Bischof.

Air France will start operating flights to BER on November 8, 2020. The flight AF1434 operated by Airbus A319 will take off from Paris-Charles de Gaulle at 7:30am and arrive in Berlin at 9:10am (local time). The company plans to have up to five daily flights from BER. Air France will also be the last airline to take off from Berlin-Tegel airport before its closure.

Some bad luck?

Since the opening, BER has had a few incidents of bad luck. On November 3, 2020, Dietmar Woidke, the state premier of Brandenburg, confessed that after attending BER opening, he had been diagnosed with COVID-19. German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, Berlin mayor Michael Müller and BER boss Engelbert Lütke Daldrup are in quarantine, but so far they all tested negative. A larger grand opening party was canceled. 

On November 4, 2020, an EasyJet flight U2-5915 from BER to Tenerife Sur Reina Sofia (TFS) suffered a bird strike. The aircraft was prompted to return to Berlin for a safe landing about 30 minutes after departure. The flight landed in TFS with 3.5 hours of delay.

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As the pandemic rages on, the German capital begins long-awaited Brandenburg Airport opening. On the one hand, it sounds suicidal. On the other, not so much.