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Ready for take-off

The 2012 opening of Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt will transform air travel to Berlin, writes Erica Gingerich.

When Berlin Brandenburg Airport opens next summer, it will be Europe’s newest and most modern hub with the capacity to handle up to 27 million passengers per annum.

CEO of Berlin Airports, Dr Rainer Schwarz, for one, claims that he cannot wait for the official June 3, 2012 opening of the gateway, which will assume the hallmark IATA code BER.

“There’s big excitement about the new airport,” admits Schwarz, who believes that the gateway will finally give Berlin the modern gateway that it deserves as the capital city of Europe’s economic and political powerhouse.

His goal? To see the new hub move into the Top 10 of European passenger airports and establish itself as the premiere East-West hub at the heart of the continent.

To some Berliners, the opening of a single airport for the city marks the final step in Berlin’s reunification process, two decades after Germany’s reunification.

“Berliners are really waiting for the new airport. We say it’s the last missing jigsaw puzzle piece in the resurrection of Berlin as an international megacity,” says Burkhard Kieker, CEO of visitBerlin, the city’s tourism and convention bureau.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German reunification in 1990 may have ended Berlin’s status as the divided heart and symbol of Cold War animosities and politics, but the city’s air traffic was still awkwardly split among three different airports: West Berlin’s post-war-built Tegel and Nazi-era Tempelhof, and East Berlin’s Soviet-built Schönefeld.

It was a situation that sometimes saw passengers scrambling to retrieve their parked cars when they departed from one airport in the morning but arrived back at a different one in the evening, says Thomas Kropp, senior vice president international relations and board delegate in Berlin for the Lufthansa Group.

“Lufthansa has been pushing for Berlin to build a single airport ever since the Wall came down,” says Kropp. “So the new airport will be a big step forward for Berlin and eastern Germany.”

When the federal seat of government relocated from its post-WWII, Cold War home in Bonn back to Berlin in 1999, leaders in the states of Berlin and Brandenburg had only just decided to locate a new hub airport to replace the trio. They chose a greenfield site adjacent to Schönefeld, 18 kilometres southeast of the city centre that would incorporate one of its existing runways into the new airport to stimulate economic growth in both states and revitalise the former East.

It took almost another full decade before construction started on BER in 2006 and Tempelhof was finally closed in 2008.

Berlin Brandenburg Airport features an H-form layout with the terminal and airfield nestled between two parallel runways. Separated by 1,900 metres, its two runways – the northern runway, incorporated from Schönefeld and expanded from 3,000 to 3,600m for the new airport, and the newly built, 4,000m southern runway – will allow for parallel and independent operation.

Covering an area of 1,470 hectares, the new airport has room to grow with the construction of two midfield satellite terminals – a luxury that many other German and European airports don’t have, notes Schwarz.

“We built it for 27 million passengers annually, and we can easily enlarge the capacity of the existing terminal to 30 million, so we have time to see how airport development goes,” Schwarz told Airport World.

“The next step will be to expand to the first of two satellites. I think the privilege we have here in Berlin is that we already have permission from the legal side to expand, which is a big deal in Germany because you normally need more time to get the legal permission than do the construction itself.”

Berlin Brandenburg Airport will boast 85 aircraft parking stands and 25 bridges initially, with 16 bridges along the 715 metre long main pier. The 350m north pier is dedicated to low-cost carrier traffic – which airlines and airport alike agree is a key growth sector for Berlin’s air traffic market – and aircraft along the north pier can be reached via walk-boarding positions.

The design and to some extent the financing of the new gateway was based upon the long-term forecasts of AviaSolutions, which acted as an independent traffic advisor to Berlin Airports.

Its role included assessing traffic growth trends, key market risks, opportunities, economic conditions, catchment demographics, ‘exposure’ to possible airline failures, competition issues and pricing implications.

The 350-meter-long south pier, which will be dedicated to airberlin traffic, will feature nine bridges and a 1,000-square-meter lounge for airberlin and oneworld passengers.

Berlin’s home carrier, airberlin, has expanded its fleet to 168 aircraft in operation, and its route network to 163 destinations in 39 countries, in the past decade with the purchase of airlines like dba and LTU to become Germany’s number-two airline after Lufthansa and Berlin’s number one with a 33% share of Berlin’s total passenger traffic market in 2010.

“Initially, I think Berlin will probably become even more seriously a hub for oneworld within continental Europe,” says Berlin Airports’ CEO, Schwarz. “They have one in London, they have one in Madrid, but they don’t have one at the border between East and West Europe, so I think this is a big chance for oneworld, for airberlin and for Berlin.”

Schwarz also welcomed Lufthansa’s recent announcement that it will up its services to Berlin when the new airport opens.

“The expansion of Lufthansa’s European services from Berlin is an important signal in the run-up to the opening of the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt in June 2012. By basing and deploying new aircraft here, Lufthansa is building a solid foundation, which will enable the airline to add more destinations in the medium-term, including new intercontinental services.

It is clear that Lufthansa, which will be based on the main pier of the new airport, is setting a strong course for growth in the city of its birth.”

Tegel and Schönefeld together handled 22.3 million passengers last year, a 6.4% increase over 2009, and Schwarz says 2011 will be another record year for passenger traffic with throughput up 8% in the first ten months of the year.

The rise puts Berlin on track to surpass the 23mppa barrier this year and possibly even nudge the 24 million mark.

Eco-friendly design
There’s nothing superfluous or fussy about BER’s layout and design, and that’s the whole point, says architect Hans-Joachim Paap, an associate partner with gmp – von Gerkan, Marg and Partners Architects, which designed the new airport together with JSK International Architekten und Ingenieuren GmbH.

According to Paap, the airport’s U-shaped form with the main, ‘one-roof-concept’ centralised terminal and two piers stretching over 280,000sqm, dispenses with all non-essentials, and is defined by clarity, clean geometric lines and ease of navigation.

The terminal’s central hall design is spread out over six levels to facilitate quick transit from landside to airside, and places a huge emphasis on intermodality and centralised passenger handling.

When it opens, BER will be one of the best-connected airports in the world, with an envious combination of new road and rail infrastructure.

From the very beginning of construction, environmental concerns have played a key role in the development of the new airport.

Airport planners have employed a creative range of eco-friendly measures, including the protection and relocation of flora and fauna on the construction site to the incorporation of innovative heat and energy recycling systems and creation of greenbelts and new parks around the airport.

In the future, the airport may also consider the development of rainwater cooling systems and the use of geothermal energy.

The airport clearly has a lot to live up to, but visitBerlin’s Kieker, for one, is certain that it won’t disappoint.

“Berlin Brandenburg will be one of the last mega hubs to be built in Europe. This is quite an honour and something Germany can be very proud of,” he enthuses.

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