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Germany: Berlin airport in the midst of a storm


Even before it came into operation a year ago, the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport (BER) was the laughing stock of all of Germany. Also called Willy-Brandt airport, it should have initially opened in 2012 and cost only two billion euros. In the end, the BER was eight years behind schedule and cost taxpayers three times as much.


Those who thought the (bad) joke was over are disappointed, because after a year of operation, the airport of the German capital accumulates setbacks. At the beginning of October, in the middle of the All Saints holiday, queues of several hundred meters formed in front of the counters of Lufthansa, unable to control the sanitary passes in time. Many passengers missed their flights even though they arrived two hours before boarding, as is the rule. Whose fault is it ? The manager, Flughafen Berlin-Brandenburg (FBB), and Lufthansa have, unsurprisingly, respectively blamed each other for this fall chaos.

→ REREAD. Willy-Brandt in Berlin, a new airport without passengers

More generally, complaints about baggage claim are legion. “There are too few police officers to control health passes and passports on arrivals”, observes Oliver, a Berliner who has passed through Berlin several times in recent weeks. Once the line was so long that no one was there to collect the luggage which piled up on the conveyor belts, fell to the floor and blocked other luggage trying to get out. A real mess”.

Bankruptcy risk

Added to this is the detection, at the beginning of November, of faecal germs in the water from toilet taps, then the cessation of air traffic for several hours due to the triggering of a fire alarm… Not to mention the complaints of Berlin taxis who feel aggrieved compared to their colleagues in the Land of Brandenburg, where the airport is located.

This series of malfunctions comes as air traffic departing from Berlin has still not returned to its pre-Covid-19 crisis level. Admittedly, the BER broke its record in October with 1.6 million passengers, but this is still half the traffic recorded in October 2019, before the pandemic, in the German capital. The BER would even be on the verge of bankruptcy according to the new CEO of the managing company. “We need cash”, launched Aletta von Massenbach, at the beginning of October. The current liquidities would make it possible to hold out only until the next first quarter.

“As it stands, the BER is not viable”

For the political opposition in Berlin, this chaos marks the “failure” of the manager, FBB, owned by the Brandenburg region, the city-state of Berlin and the federal state. For the CDU, the conservative party, it is urgent to pass the airport of the capital in the hands of private managers. “As it stands, the BER is not viable”, believes Christian Gräff, elected Berliner of the CDU, expert in air transport.

→ ANALYSIS. Air transport: what challenges after the health crisis?

Will the owners of the airport respond to this call for help? This question, and more generally the management of the chaos of recent weeks, will in any case be at the heart of a meeting of the supervisory board to be held this Friday, December 3. A meeting that promises to be stormy.

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