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Published On: Tue, Aug 29th, 2017

Why Berlin Brandenburg Airport must become Germany’s Suvarnabhumi & Tegel should not close

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Berlin’s airports are modest performers relative to other capital cities

Today, usage of the two remaining airports is still very modest by comparison with other European capitals (see Table), but at the time Templehof closed, total passenger traffic was just 21 million ppa for the other two airports. Latterly what increase there has been was mainly driven by LCC growth. But the story now is a different one; that of airport capacity shortages.

City

Main airports

Total pax traffic

2016 (m)

Berlin

Tegel, Schönefeld

32.8

Paris

Charles de Gaulle, Orly

97.2

London

Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, City, Luton

162.1

Rome

Fiumicino, Ciampino

47.1

Amsterdam

Schiphol

63.6

Madrid

Barajas

50.4

The two remaining Berlin airports (Templehof is now used partially as a refugee camp; it won’t be reopening) have four runways between them so capacity shouldn’t be a problem.

The problem is that Tegel, which was “West Berlin’s airport” and which is both by far the busier of the two and closer to the city centre, will close when (if?) the ‘new’ Berlin Brandenburg Airport (or BBI as it is still known although its IATA code is BER), finally does open. BBI has been under construction since 2006 and should have opened in 2011, next door to the existing Schönefeld Airport, “East Berlin’s airport”, sharing some facilities with it, including a runway.

This saga has gone on for so long now that BBI’s Wiki entry, which has borne the message “…is an international airport under construction…” for over a decade, might as well be in Latin.

Brandenburg Airport still has no opening date

 The latest position is that BBI should open at a still unspecified date in 2018 or 2019, although local media allegations that “almost no construction work is taking place” (Aug-2017) and reports that the airport’s managing authority, FBB, has issued a tender for work that includes the upgrade of alarm and emergency warning systems (the inadequacies of which were partly responsible for the original deferral of the opening date, six years ago) hardly inspire confidence.

The delay may already have contributed to the demise of airberlin, whose CEO has commented that the airline had “designed our whole concept based on transfer traffic at this new airport” and that “it wouldn’t work at Tegel”.

Assuming BBI does eventually open and that several years down the line all the problems it had are distant memories, the plan is that, together with the acquired Schönefeld estate, it should be capable of handling 55 million ppa by 2040.

The original estimate was that it should open with a capacity of 27 million ppa, rising to 45 million ppa. Latterly FBB approved the construction of an additional EUR100 million terminal that will handle an additional six million ppa, “to enter operations in 1H2020”, which increasingly looks like wishful thinking.

…and will probably open at capacity

Judging from the rate of growth so far, 55 mppa seems quite adequate but the problem will come when BBI opens with an extended capacity (hopefully) of 33 mppa, which is 2016’s total traffic for Berlin. In other words, it would open at capacity, which is what happened with Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2006. The anticipated closure of Tegel is clearly an issue; the numbers don’t stack up.

It is not surprising therefore that the government is coming under pressure from several quarters to keep Tegel open.

There is a parallel: In Bangkok, Don Mueang Airport was closed, to be replaced by the new airport, before the belated recognition that it had a future as a low cost facility. It was subsequently reopened – after which it grew so quickly it looked at one time as if it might overtake Suvarnabhumi. In 2016 Suvarnabhumi had 56 mpp and Don Mueang had gone from near zero to 35 mppa in five years.

The grand scheme for Tegel is that it would make way for a politically attractive ” tech republic”, comprising a “future technology” industrial park, university campus and residential area, creating 20,000 jobs.

But apart from the unsurprising intervention of Ryanair, which despite its best efforts still has only 2% of seat capacity in Germany, and whose CMO has intimated the Berlin Senate “should contemplate building” a new airport, in addition to BBI, and that in the meantime Tegel should be kept open, there is evidence that the government is having second thoughts anyway.

Berlin will inevitably bow to the need for two airports – or suffer economic loss

The Federal Minister of Transport stated in Jul-2017 that he had changed his perspective on the matter and that “a capital with two airports can be imagined”. (However, the Federal Government as a whole has kept its distance from his Road to Damascus-like conversion, describing his thoughts on the matter as “personal”, typically a political euphemism for “unsafe politically”).

Meanwhile, the Minister held a 17-Aug-2017 meeting on a potential decision to keep Tegel open, attended by Berlin financial advisor and manager Matthias Kollatz-Ahnen, Brandenburg Finance Minister Christian Görke and FBB supervisory board chairman and Berlin State Secretary Rainer Bretschneider. According to the group, “legal issues” on the facility remaining open are planned to be discussed at the next FBB supervisory board meeting in Nov-2017, 

More significantly perhaps, FBB’s President and CEO Engelbert Lütke Daldrup is apparently strongly opposed to keeping Tegel open, opining that only operating BBI is “much more economical than if there were two locations”, and that the Tegel debate “has no relevance to our plans”. He should perhaps take a holiday in Thailand.

Not only has Don Mueang been a vital overflow to Bangkok’s newer airport, it has allowed the low cost airline industry (and inbound tourism) to proliferate. Without reopening it the opportunity cost to Bangkok’s economy – the loss of 35 mppa – would have been phenomenal.

Not everybody in Germany’s airline community would favour a similar development, but among those tens of thousands of workers whose jobs would be created there may be a different view.

An extended report on Schönefeld Airport and its relationship with BBI was published by CAPA – Centre for Aviation in Jun-2017:

https://centreforaviation.com/insights/analysis/berlin-schoenefeld-airport-dramatic-passenger-growth-figures-and-it-may-have-an-extended-shelf-life-343820

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