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Three's a crowd

Berlin Brandenburg International Airport will usher in a new era for Germany’s capital city when it opens in 2011, writes Oliver Clark.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the division of Germany into two states, when Berlin became the centre of Cold War rivalry between East and West. A lot has changed since then – the Berlin Wall has fallen and the country has been unified for a decade. But for Berlin’s airports the ‘unification’ process is an ongoing one.

That’s because the city’s three major gateways, Schönefeld, Tempelhof and Tegel are completing an historic unification of their own, as they are merged into a single hub, the new Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BBI).

Currently Europe’s most expensive infrastructure project, the €2.4 billion airport, which is being built at the Schönefeld site, will handle all the city’s commercial air traffic when it opens in 2011, and according to BBI’s CEO, Rainer Schwarz, it presents a unique opportunity to transform Berlin into a major regional gateway.

“Not since the fall of the Wall has Berlin had this type of opportunity to develop into an international metropolis. A modern, global metropolis requires a modern, efficient airport with worldwide flight connections,” says Schwarz.

“As the third largest airport location in Germany [after Frankfurt and Munich], this is our chance to continue growing and rise from 15th place to be among the top 10 in Europe.”

In October 2008 operator Berlin Airports closed Tempelhof Airport and it will shut down operations at Tegel in 2011. Thereafter all traffic will transfer to the Schönefeld site where a brand new 220,000sqm terminal is currently under construction.

Initially BBI will be capable of handling between 22 and 25 million passengers a year, through 37 gates. Divided over six floors, the terminal will have 80 check-in desks arranged in four ‘islands’, as well as self-service facilities, a 20,000sqm baggage-sorting hall and 36 security points allowing for quick check-in and transfers.

At the heart of the project is Berlin Airport’s vision of turning BBI into an important transfer hub for point-to-point traffic between Eastern and Western Europe and for long-haul passengers seeking connections between North America, Europe and Asia.

And despite the new airport being in one of the world’s most competitive markets for long-haul connecting traffic, Schwarz believes the new gateway has advantages over its competitors.

“Due to its geographical location, Berlin has an advantage over Frankfurt and Munich in that BBI is one hour closer by plane to the growth markets of Asia,” he comments.

BBI will operate a parallel runway system incorporating Schönefeld’s existing southern runway, extended from 3,000m to 3,600m, and a brand new 4,000m runway, allowing it to handle a maximum of 360,000 flight movements a year.

The vast construction programme is being funded by a consortium of seven banks, headed by the European Investment Bank (EIB), which has contributed €1 billion to the project.

Unusually for an international gateway, BBI will combine low-cost and legacy traffic under one roof, having designated the north pier, which is capable of handling 20,000 passengers a day, for LLC carriers – proof it seems that this is seen as a major growth sector.

BBI’s planners have also left space for the gateway’s future expansion. This includes two additional midfield satellite terminals and secondary piers that can be expanded to 740m, while the terminal itself can be increased by 970 hectares, allowing the gateway to gradually increase capacity to 40mppa to 45mppa.

Developed by a team from the German architectural firms JSK International, gmp General Planning and IGK-IGR Engineering Society, Brandenburg Airport’s design seeks to marry the future and the past.

Topping BBI’s skyline is the futuristic looking Infotower, or ‘Pulpit’, a showpiece 32-metre structure from which visitors get panoramic views of the airport and the capital.

But the design also embraces several other influences – from the early 20th century German Bauhaus movement to the neo-classicism of Prussian designer Karl Friedrich Schinkel – and combines functionality with practical form.

“The era of the ‘gold-plated glamour airports’ is well and truly over. BBI represents a new generation of airport – one that must be cost-effective and functional, guarantee short-haul flight connection times, be state-of-the-art, efficient and distinguished by modern industrial architecture,” enthuses Schwarz. The decision to rationalise Berlin’s airport system is also rooted in history and follows 50 years of Cold War division and distrust, during which time political, rather than commercial pressures, shaped the city’s aviation landscape.

Following the partition of Berlin at the end of World War II, the East and West sections of the city developed their own separate air networks. In West Berlin, the Nazi-era Templehof Airport and Tegel, built in 1948, became major bases for the American and British military air forces and played a crucial role in the famous Berlin airlift to feed the city, which began that same year.

Berlin’s special legal status meant the use of Tegel and Templehof was restricted to the airlines of the occupying powers, such as Air France, British Airways and Pan Am, with Lufthansa only able to resume flights to Berlin after reunification in 1990.

Schönefeld became first a base for the Soviet Air Force and later welcomed Aeroflot, which brought routes to the Soviet states. The airport also became the headquarters for the now defunct East German carrier, Interflug.

By selecting Schönefeld for the new airport, government planners and Berlin Airports are hoping to stimulate job creation and encourage regeneration in East Berlin and satisfy the city’s needs for a modern gateway.

Located 18km south east of the city centre, BBI is 25 minutes away by car and half an hour by rail. Intermodality is therefore a key concern and the airport will be equipped with a six platform railway station, three of which will be underground, providing regular services to the heart of the city. Built in partnership with rail operator Deutsche Bahn, the station will also offer connections across Germany, while a dedicated airport express service will allow passengers to reach downtown Berlin.

BBI will also be connected by road with its own exit to the outer freeway ring road and to the A 113 freeway, Berlin’s main motorway towards Dresden.

Environmental concerns figure at every stage in the airport’s construction, including adding a heat recovery system to save 30% of the gateway’s heating power, protecting the local habitat (including efforts to save local populations of Moor Frogs) and recycling building materials.

With a view to current trends in airport design, the importance of non-aeronautical revenue streams has also been a key concern. Berlin Brandenburg will have 20,000sqm of retail space, its own airport city and the biggest business park in the German capital.

The BBI Airport City, located on 16 hectares of land directly in front of the terminal, will combine a shopping and office complex, with revenue coming from restaurants, conference halls and hotels.

The jewel in the crown, however, is the BBI Business Park Berlin, an impressive 109 hectares of real estate, which will offer ready-made and made to measure plots for businesses of all sizes.

As the clock counts down to Berlin Brandenburg’s grand opening, its competitors in Frankfurt and Munich are sure to be watching its next moves closely.

Airport World 2009 - Issue 4

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