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 premier 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 was reunited.
“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 build 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 in order 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.
With a population of 3.4 million, Berlin dwarfs Germany’s other major cities, such as Hamburg and Munich (1.6 and 1.2 million respectively) and continues to grow both in population and economic clout.
As the seat of the federal government again for the past 12 years, Berlin is attracting companies that want their European or German headquarters close to policymakers.
For example, according to Berlin Airports’ Schwarz, “Pfizer already did just that. They had to choose between Munich and Berlin, and they chose Berlin because the government’s located here.”
The impact of the new airport on business development in the region has also been strong: as one of Europe’s most expensive infrastructure projects of the past decade, the €2.5 billion airport project has been funded by a consortium of seven banks, headed by the European Investment Bank, which has provided €1 billion towards the project.
By late 2012, a significant improvement in the value of the location will be attained with BER, primarily through the growth of passenger traffic and the creation of up to 40,000 new jobs in the region.
Berlin Brandenburg is also on its way to becoming the third most important location for the German aerospace industry and is already home to Deutsche Lufthansa AG, MTU Aero Engines GmbH, Rolls-Royce Deutschland Ltd & Co KG and around 60 medium-sized companies in the sector.
Companies are also moving into the corridor along the rail line between the new airport and downtown, and the capital’s biggest business park – Business Park Berlin – is a 109-hectare site being developed just northeast of the new airport.
Playing catch up
In terms of traffic and infrastructure development, in many ways Berlin has been playing catch-up with the rest of Germany and Europe for decades.
“There’s been a race to get up to the level of all the other airports – which already had development during the last 40 years while we had the East-West border here,” says Schwarz.
Number three in German passenger traffic rankings after Frankfurt and Munich, Berlin is looking forward to finally getting the hub infrastructure it needs in order to consolidate and expand traffic.
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 10.4% in the first seven 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.
New long-haul routes to Asian and Middle Eastern destinations, such as Bangkok, Beijing and Dubai have driven growth, and Schwarz expects the trend to continue with the new hub.
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 3,600 metres for the new airport, and the newly built, 4,000 metre 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’re initially building it for 27mppa, 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 Routes News.
“The next step will be to build 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 initially boast 85 aircraft parking stands and 25 bridges, with 16 bridges along the 715 metre long main pier. The 350 metre 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 350 metre long south pier, which will be dedicated to airberlin traffic, will feature nine bridges and a 1,000sqm lounge for airberlin and oneworld passengers.
Berlin’s home carrier, airberlin, has expanded its fleet to 168 aircraft and its route network to 163 destinations in 39 countries. In the past decade with the purchase of airlines, such as dba and LTU, it has 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.
Airberlin’s CFO, Ulf Hüttmeyer, says the airline’s hubs are all fully functional, and airberlin is focused on expanding its hub strategy in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Palma de Mallorca and Vienna, and has been practising ‘hubbing’ at Tegel for the past year in order to gear up for the new airport’s opening.
“We’ve got a very decent hub and spoke system now, even though Tegel doesn’t really allow for proper hub operations. But it’s important for us to have it set up now so that we can more or less copy and paste when we move to the new airport” adds Hüttmeyer.
Hüttmeyer says the airline’s strategy will focus on “plugging in more flights and higher frequencies,” and also includes “trying to get our oneworld partners to come to the Berlin hub”.
He adds that the newly launched direct flight to New York using oneworld’s American Airlines as a codeshare partner has so far been an “overwhelming success,” with strong sales on the US side.
Enthuses Hüttmeyer: “The brand awareness of airberlin is quite high, because we carry one of the best city names in the world!”
The Lufthansa Group’s Kropp says that Europe’s biggest airline is also well positioned to take advantage of Berlin’s new hub airport.
Lufthansa traces its Berlin presence back to 1926, when the Deutsche Luft Hansa Aktiengesellschaft was originally founded. Today, Berlin – alongside Frankfurt – is the only city where all of Lufthansa’s business divisions are still represented.
Lufthansa and its seven Lufthansa Group airlines (Swiss, Austrian, bmi, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings, Germanwings and SunExpress) have around a 30% market share of Berlin’s total traffic.
Another important factor, says Kropp, is Lufthansa’s close cooperation with its Star Alliance partners serving the Berlin market (United Airlines, SAS, Egyptair, Aegean, Spanair, Turkish Airlines and LOT).
With Lufthansa planning to launch its official strategy for the new airport in late summer, Kropp is circumspect about the airline’s concrete plans, but does say that Lufthansa will continue to grow its traffic in Berlin.
When the airport reaches the point where it needs to expand passenger facilities by building the first of two planned midfield terminals, Berlin Airports’ Schwarz admits that considering a public-private partnership with an airline is “an option”.
Future oneworld hub?
Berlin Brandenburg Airport is named after Willy Brandt, perhaps the most beloved statesman of all time in Germany. A Nobel Peace prize winner and former mayor of Berlin and German chancellor, Brandt was one of the leading political voices on the left calling for German reunification.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, his comments on reunification, “now grows together what belongs together”, have since become a figure of speech in Germany, making him an ideal namesake for an airport that will re-establish Berlin’s legacy as the portal between east and west.
“Berlin has always been the most eastern city of the west, and the most western city of the east,” says visitBerlin’s CEO, Kieker. “And as soon as you [have an airport here] that can support hub transit traffic, this status will return to Berlin. So I think we’ll give [European airports with strong networks into eastern Europe] like Munich and Vienna a hard time.”
With a catchment area extending into neighbouring Poland, and other major German cities, such as Leipzig and Hanover, within a 90-minute journey via Germany’s high-speed ICE trains, BER is now in the driving seat to re-establish itself as the airport link between east and west.
“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.
“And then we’ll see what Lufthansa decides to do. I don’t think they will immediately build Berlin into a main hub like Frankfurt or Munich. But I do think they will build up infrastructure step by step like they did in Düsseldorf, where at the moment, they have around six long-haul aircrafts based. And I think that’s a realistic vision for Berlin.”
“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 terminal’s U-shaped form, with the main ‘one-roof-concept’ centralised complex 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.
Airport shopaholics and gate bar flies can attest to the fact that it’s been slim pickings – shopping and restaurant wise – at Berlin’s airports for too many years. That’s all changing with the new airport’s 20,000sqm of retail and restaurant space.
A 9,000sqm marketplace that forms the centrepiece of BER’s retail concept awaits departing passengers directly after they check in at one of the airport’s eight check-in islands and pass through one of the terminal’s 30 security check-points.
Berlin Airports’ CEO, Schwarz, says that creating a Berlin-specific mix of retail and restaurants was of the utmost importance when planners selected brands and companies for the airports 150 concessionnaires.
“Travellers will definitely know they are in Berlin,” he says, when they dine at eateries, such as the ‘East Berlin Gallery’, which will feature local food and drink – like the tasty Berliner Weisse beer flavoured with red or green syrup – and which will also have a mock Berlin Wall running through it.
There will also be tourist shops selling Berlin memorabilia for visitors who didn’t have time to shop in the city.
Shops and retail will include international brands Hugo Boss and Burberry, Gant and Massimo Dutti as well as local brands Evelyn Brandt Berlin and Die kleine Gesellschaft.
BER’s Airport City – a 16-hectare, landscaped expanse directly in front of the terminal building that will feature an office and shopping complex – rounds off the new airport’s non-aviation offerings.
The airport operator is focused on expanding the proportion of non-aviation to aviation revenue with the four-star Steigenberger Superior Hotel, located directly in front of the terminal and featuring 320 rooms and extensive conferencing facilities; a bevy of restaurant and retail offerings for Airport City employees and office workers; and conference facilities for the kinds of fly-meet-fly business the airport wants to attract in the future.
For plane spotters, the airport’s new InfoTower, dubbed ‘The Pulpit’ due to its futuristic, spacey 32m high design, is perched atop the terminal and offers a panoramic view over the airport and even a glimpse of Berlin on clear days.
Perhaps visitBerlin’s CEO, Burkhard Kieker, a “Wahlberliner”, or a newcomer to Berlin, sums up best what the new airport will mean to Berlin, the region and to European air traffic in general.
“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 says.