Quantcast
Card image cap

Berliners vote to keep Tegel airport open but for how long?


This article was written by Padraic Regan, Trinity College Dublin and first published on The Conversation

As analysts feverishly assess the implications of Germany’s new, 709-member Bundestag, more than 1.7m voters in Berlin also ponder the results of a hotly-contested referendum on the future of Tegel airport.

Current law requires Tegel be closed when the new, under-construction Berlin-Brandenburg International opens. But, in a blow to city authority plans, the results of a September 24 non-binding referendum showed that the majority of Berliners want to keep Tegel open.

Although almost all major capital cities have more than one international airport, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the correct configuration. Each city has its own politics, policy and needs.

Berlin does not have the same demand for air passenger and air cargo services as many of its counterparts such as London, New York and Sydney. It is not the financial centre (Frankfurt is), nor located in the manufacturing heartland (that’s Bavaria), nor is it a major port city (like Hamburg).

What makes Berlin a particularly interesting case is that the background of the city’s airport expansion plans include such machinations and intrigue as: the resignation of a city mayor, allegations of a “whistleblower poisoning” and question marks over Germany’s reputation for efficiency, and a much-loved, iconic airfield in the city centre that is steeped in history.

Airport politics

Berlin has four airports, but only two are operational. The iconic Tempelhof closed in October 2008 after another controversial referendum where the majority voted to keep it open but there were too few to make the result binding. It featured prominently in the Berlin Airlift – which transported crucial supplies in and out of the city during a Soviet blockade – and now remains as a popular park on the southern side of the city.

Tempelhof Airport closed in 2008 and is now a park. Lukas Koster, CC BY-SA

Brandenburg is the newest airport on the scene, but despite building commencing in 2006 for a 2011 opening, it is still not yet up and running. Its budget has since doubled to €6 billion.

This leaves Schoenefeld and Tegel as the city’s only two functioning airports. Both have a legion of issues, partly related to their old age and design. The plan was to close them on a phased basis, leaving Berlin with one major hub, Berlin-Brandenburg (which is owned by the city of Berlin, the State of Brandenburg and the Federal Government). Complications arose, however, on three fronts.

First, Brandenburg became embroiled in numerous controversies, including massive budget over-runs, technical problems, court cases and claims of corruption against construction firms – even accusations that an engineer working on the construction had his coffee poisoned when he was alleging bribes to officials.

Second, passenger and cargo demand has grown so strongly that the capacity of the new airport to meet it has been called into question.

And third, Berliners have not not taken to the idea of losing Tegel, making it more difficult for city authorities to proceed without caution.

Tug of love

Tegel sprang up in just 90 days to support the Berlin Airlift. Its impressive concrete hexagonal terminal was built in the 1970s in a vision of the future that is not just architecturally impressive, but highly convenient for business travellers. As well as its central location, taxis can drive directly up to departure gates.

Fans of Tegel also argued that the new airport would not have the capacity to meet the city’s needs. It only has a capacity of 27m but Tegel and Schoenefeld had 33m passengers pass through their gates last year.

Critics of Tegel, meanwhile, point to the noise pollution (300,000 people live in its environs), safety and security threats, and high operating costs. Closing it would avoid potential lawsuits for environmental damage and falling property prices.

It would also allow more funds to be diverted to the new airport. Renovation costs to bring Tegel up to the required standards have been estimated at €1 billion. The site could then be used to develop new housing, an IT start-up park, and a science university – with the new uses at Tempelhof being used to demonstrate the potential benefits for the city.

Considering Tegel scores so negatively on safety, security, environmental, and economics grounds, alongside the fact that there is not such a big need in Berlin to have more than one international airport, it’s clear why authorities are keen to close it. And there’s a certain deja vu about the direction that Tegel is going – there was a residents’ petition to keep Tempelhof open, a non-binding referendum which voted in favour of saving the airport, and several attempts to reverse court decisions, but still it closed.

The ConversationAs the law currently stands, Tegel must close after Brandenburg opens and it’s difficult to see any other outcome. Berlin can’t escape the need for an airport that’s fit for purpose in the 21st century. Although it may be a while yet, it seems inevitable that Berlin-Brandenburg will be Berlin’s sole airport … one day.


Padraic Regan, Lecturer in Strategy; Researcher in Aviation, Trinity College Dublin

Similar news
Stockholm airport evacuated after explosive in luggage
Airports
Stockholm airport evacuated after explosive in luggage

An airport Skavsta near Stockholm was evacuated after 'expolsive powder' was found in luggage of a passenge...

Kathmandu airport closed after plane skids off runway
Airports
Kathmandu airport closed after plane skids off runway

A Boeing 737 of the Malaysian company Malindo Airlines skidded off the runway with 139 passengers onboard on the evening...

IATA advocates for Mexico City airport expansion
Airports
IATA advocates for Mexico City airport expansion

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) emphasized its strong support for the construction of a new internati...

Two Moscow airports likely to miss World Cup expansion deadlines
Airports
Two Moscow airports likely to miss World Cup expansion deadlines

Two of Moscow's busiest airports will likely miss a crucial deadline for their new runways before the country hosts...

From security checks to duty-free: why customer service matters
News
From security checks to duty-free: why customer service matters

It was in the sixties when the airlines took customer service to another level by introducing helpful, smiling stewardes...

Gatwick to trial autonomous shuttle vehicles for airfield staff
Airports
Gatwick to trial autonomous shuttle vehicles for airfield staff

London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) is set to launch trials of electric-powered autonomous shuttle vehicles in the summ...

Chinese airports receive record numbers of passengers
Airports
Chinese airports receive record numbers of passengers

Chinese airports have seen 1.15 billion passengers in 2017. It is 12.9% more than 2016. Cargo volume also increased dram...

Dubai airport to close southern runway for 45 days
Airports
Dubai airport to close southern runway for 45 days

Dubai International Airport (DXB) issued a statement on February 26, 2018, revealing plans to close one of two runways t...

British Airways worker dies after vehicle collision at Heathrow
Airports
British Airways worker dies after vehicle collision at Heathrow

On February 14, 2018, at least 20 British Airways flights were delayed after two vehicles collided on the taxiway at Lon...

London City Airport closed, flights cancelled due to WWII bomb
Airports
London City Airport closed, flights cancelled due to WWII bomb

London City Airport has been shut down for a second day since the discovery of a World War II bomb in the River Thames n...