LONDON – In preparation for the opening of the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport (BER) at the end of the month, Berlin-Schonefeld (SXF) will close tomorrow.
Berlin-Schonefeld is the first out of the two Berlin airports to close down as BER opens up on Halloween this year, with Berlin-Tegel (TXL) due to close on November 8. The airport is a focus city for the likes of Ryanair (FR) and easyJet (U2) who will be moving over to BER upon its opening in around a week’s time.
This article takes a look at SXF’s history and how much of an essential airport it has been to the German capital since its resurrection in 1934.
The Turbulent Beginning
Berlin-Schonefeld’s life began in 1934 when construction got underway to construct three runways each at a size of 2,600 feet long in order to cater to the Henschel aircraft plant in the Schonefeld area of the city.
By the end of World War II, 14,000 Henschel aircraft were produced, especially to cater with the war-time efforts for aerial dogfighting across Europe.
Upon the defeat of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union occupied the facility, with the USSR dismantling and demolishing the site. By 1946-47, this was later repaired, including the railway connection that was needed to transport aircraft and parts around.
The Soviet Air Forces transferred all base of operations from the Johannisthal Air Field down to Schonefeld, which included the likes of Aeroflot (SU) beginning operations out of that airport.
By the 1970s and when the Four Power Agreement of 1971 was agreed, a clause in the agreement stated that air travel could not take place in Berlin, including restrictive access to the capital for American, British, French and Soviet carriers.
However, SXF was exempt from this rule as it was just outside of the borders, meaning such restrictions did not apply, meaning East German carrier Interflug later used the airport, but Lufthansa was denied access to Tegel and others.
Costs Surrounding Unification Resulting in Further Unification in the Future
The heading is complicated. I know. But let me explain.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1990s and unification came into reality, operating three airports, being Tegel, Schonefeld and Tempelhof was very costly for the newly-formed German democratic governments.
This lead those in the Berlin legislature to push for just one brand new single airport to be built in order to increase efficiency and decrease aircraft noise.
It was from there that plans for BER were drawn up, for an initial launch target of 2012. Nowadays, it will be the end of this month, highlighting eight years worth of delays due to issues with the fire alarm and safety systems that were put in place.
So in a sense, unification in the post-Soviet era caused the want for further consolidation within Berlin’s airports.
Schonefeld’s Popularity Begins to Disappear
SXF’s popularity in 2012 began to diminish as airlines such as Germanwings (4U), Aer Lingus (EI) and others switched its operations over to TXL.
However, 4U until it ceased operations earlier this year came back to SXF in 2015 in order to compete with FR, who at the time would have announced its sixth base in Germany, adding five aircraft and 16 routes to the airport.
By May 2015, the Southern runway of the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport was used for SXF operations whilst the original runway was being renovated, with extensions completed a year later.
Even though SXF has been operating at full capacity over the last four years and saw increased passenger growth, announcements over the last few years especially with the COVID-19 pandemic meant that a closure date would come into effect regardless of such success.
The End is Nigh…
Even with such growth, the last few years have seen some levels of decline. Between 2014-2017, numbers were at all-time highs, increasing from 7.2 million in 2014 to 12.8 million before decreasing to 11.4 million by 2017.
The busiest routes were to Cologne/Bonn (CGN) on the domestic front with Ryanair, with the busiest European routes being London Gatwick (LGW), Barcelona (BCN) etc.
So as of tomorrow, SXF will close and because of its close proximity with BER; it will link up with the new airport and become Terminal 5 at the brand new airfield.
What remains clear is that as SXF closes, it is not completely being subjected to death like how TXL is. SXF will always be a part of BER, especially as a terminal building, but will become the forefront of what the German government wants flying to be like.
One central port of call out of the capital, increased capacity and the hope of bringing new airlines in through its substantial international presence. All we can do now is wait for launch, and see how the opening goes.
Featured Image: Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons