Berlin's new airport welcomes first passengers after nine years

Suban Abdulla
·3 min read
General view inside of the Terminal 1 on the first day of operation for the new BER Berlin Brandenburg Airport on October 31, 2020 in Schoenefeld, Germany. Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images
General view inside of the Terminal 1 on the first day of operation for the new BER Berlin Brandenburg Airport on October 31, 2020 in Schoenefeld, Germany. Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images

After nine years and billions of euros later, Berlin’s repeatedly delayed new airport finally opened on Saturday with an easyJet (EZJ.L) flight.

The budget airline was greeted by a water salute after touching down at Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport (BER), which was initially planned to open in 2011.

Initially, the easyJet plane was due to land simultaneously with a flight operated by German flag carrier Lufthansa (LHA.DE), but poor visibility meant the planes landed separately.

EasyJet has formed a new partnership with the country’s rail operator Deutsche Bahn to ease passenger transfers by combining plane and train tickets into a single booking.

It will be the leading airline at BER after it acquired part of bankrupt German carrier Air Berlin in December 2017.

In 2019, more than 12 million passengers travelled on easyJet’s Berlin flights. But, since then demand for air travel has collapsed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aircraft belonging to the airlines Lufthansa and easyJet stand after landing under a fountain of water from the airport fire brigade in front of Terminal 1 of the capital airport Berlin Brandenburg "Willy Brandt" (BER). Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa via Getty Images
Aircraft belonging to the airlines Lufthansa and easyJet stand after landing under a fountain of water from the airport fire brigade in front of Terminal 1 of the capital airport Berlin Brandenburg "Willy Brandt" (BER). Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa via Getty Images

Construction and technical problems have plagued the development of BER.

It has been beset by problems since the start, everything from allegations of corruption to management changes, which meant the opening was postponed around six times since the original planned date of 2011.

In 2012, just a few weeks ahead of the opening, with invitations sent and chancellor Angela Merkel teed up to bless the new airport, they had to call a halt due to technical difficulties, including faulty fire-safety systems.

Promised opening dates in 2014, 2016 and 2017 blew by and costs spiralled from the original €2.7bn (£3.2bn,£2.4bn) estimate to over €6bn.

BER has two runways, more than 120 parking places for airplanes, 13,000 car parking places, and its baggage system can sort 10,000 bags an hour.

READ MORE: Nine years late and billions over budget, Berlin’s international airport opens mid-pandemic

The opening comes as the global aviation industry struggles with a dearth of travellers due to COVID-19.

Engelbert Lütke-Daldrup, who inherited a total mess when he took over as chief executive of operator Berlin-Brandenburger Flughafengesellschaft in 2017, said recently that the delayed airport had made Berlin and Germany “a laughing stock.”

However, asked why he decided to open in the middle of a pandemic, Lütke-Daldrup told reporters on a tour on 27 October that it was about keeping a promise.

“We already fixed the opening date three years ago, and it is with some pride after what happened in the past, that we can keep this date and demonstrate reliability,” Lütke-Daldrup said.

Meanwhile, the opening of the airport was not without hiccups. A group of activists dressed as penguins gathered at the airport in a bid to disrupt its opening due to the environmental impact of aviation. One activist glued himself to the door of a plane.

Watch: Berlin airport opens