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Berlin (finally) inaugurates its new airport



Cursed to the end, the new Willy-Brandt airport, to the south-east of the German capital, welcomes its first planes this Saturday, October 31, after a project that has accumulated nine years of delay. Sad irony of history, it was inaugurated as the airline industry suffered the worst crisis in its history. No party is therefore planned for the arrival of the inaugural flights on the tarmac.

The platform will kick off in a small group because of the health situation but also the incredible black series that hit this great project resulting from reunification: failures, poor workmanship, bankruptcies, negligence, resounding resignations.

The construction of “BER”, started in 2006, planning to open in 2011. Become a financial pit and the laughing stock of Berliners, it opens nine years later, while the Covid-19 pandemic has plunged world air traffic. Lufthansa and Easyjet will land two special flights around 2 p.m. (1 p.m. GMT) with guest passengers boarding. As for the first commercial flight, between Berlin and London, it is scheduled for Sunday, November 1. German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier points to the “bright side” of things. “It was a burden for all of us not to know, for years, if there was a prospect that this airport would one day be operational”, he said Friday, October 30.

Delay, poor workmanship and health crisis.

In 2012, the site was suddenly stopped because the fire safety devices were not working. The inauguration, scheduled a few weeks later, in the presence of Chancellor Angela Merkel and 10,000 spectators, was then hastily canceled.

Faulty lighting system, too short escalators, planning errors, construction faults, suspicion of corruption… The succession of insults has tarnished Germany’s reputation for efficiency, although it is well established.

And here is that the health crisis comes to lengthen the long list of these setbacks, adding to the anxieties of the managers of the BER for the future. After the almost total cessation of traffic all over the world in the spring, the recovery is only taking place very slowly. Technical unemployment, job cuts, astronomical losses: the aviation sector is facing a historic crisis.

For the third airport in the country, after those of Frankfurt and Munich, this announces long months of operation at reduced capacity. Operators have thus counted on a transit of 27 million people per year for Terminal 1, the only one to open on Saturday. In November, only 20% of normal flight capacity is planned.

Terminal 2 will not open until spring 2021, at best. Same uncertainty for the commercial spaces of the airport, an important source of income, even though Germany will spend the entire month of November in “Light confinement” with compulsory closure, from Monday 2 November, of bars, cafes and restaurants in particular. About fifteen shops and restaurants will not open on the day of the airport’s inauguration. Others have decided to adopt “Reduced opening hours”, because of the low attendance expected.

An inflationary budget

Enough to give the platform managers a cold sweat, the initial cost of which, estimated at 1.7 billion euros, actually amounts to 6.5 billion … To help the airport and ensure the future of the 20 000 people who must eventually work there, the authorities have released 300 million euros in financial aid for the year 2020. Other aid will no doubt be necessary, warned the Minister of Transport, Andreas Scheuer.

The crisis is already having consequences for employment in the aviation sector. Berlin airports announced at the end of July the elimination of 400 jobs, out of a total of 2,100. And, as if the health crisis were not enough, the specter of the climate crisis casts its shadow: actions of ” civil disobedience “ are announced this Saturday by the environmental collective “Extinction Rebellion”, which denounces the impact of aviation on global warming.

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