MIAMI — The historic, cold-war-era airport located in Central Berlin refuses to die. Today, a referendum that was held in the German capital showed that 56% of Berliners don’t want the airport to be closed down, even though 41% voted for its closure.

Given its central location, the airport is a fan-favorite, especially for businesspersons. However, Tegel Airport (TXL) is surrounded by over 300,000 residents in an area of numerous new buildings, residential complexes, a university, and a business center, where airplane noise isn’t welcome at all.


But with today’s referendum results, the Berlin Senate will be asked to abandon its agenda of closing down the airport and to take all necessary measures to secure the permanent operation of the Tegel Airport as a transport airport, and the German government is stuck with a problem it wanted to be solved a long time ago.

TXL’s enemies claim that the airport is old, obsolete and that it doesn’t meet safety and operational standards. In general, residents wish to convert the airport into a technology park, like it was done at Tempelhof Airport in 2008.

While commercial operations at TXL date back to 1960, and the facility is clearly operating beyond its capacity, it actually works. Tegel accommodates almost twice the number of passengers it was designed for and, although it may not have a state-of-the-art terminal, passengers appreciate the short walking distances inside the airport and its proximity and easy access to much of Berlin’s downtown.

But even though today’s referendum is non-binding, the German government will have to find alternate ways to keep Berlin’s residents happy. However, the one at fault here is Berlin Brandenburg’s brand-new airport. The one that isn’t open, even after several years of being finished.

Angela Merkel, the country’s prime minister, claims that TXL will be closed once BER is opened. But without a final opening date in sight, things will only get tougher for TXL opposers.

BER, what a chaos

As shown in our Airways December 2016 issue, Berlin Brandenburg is Germany’s biggest shame.

Every time a new airport opens around the world, Berliners sigh and ask, “When will ours be ready?” For years, the German capital has been waiting for its new airport, Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg, to become operational.

In 2001, Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s then-mayor, announced that the government was hoping for a 2007 opening of what would eventually become the once-divided city’s new single airport. That didn’t happen.

Neither did it happen on the next announced opening dates: October 2011, June 2012, March and October 2013. Now it is late 2017, the airport is still closed, and nobody knows when that will change.

Planning for the new airport started immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was supposed to be a state-of-the-art airport for the unified city, replacing the three existing Tegel (TXL), Tempelhof (THF), and Schönefeld (SXF) airports.

The first choice that had to be made was the location, out of a possible seven. One was where Schönefeld stands, and another, Sperenberg, was the site of a former military airfield south of Berlin, in the state of Brandenburg.

The problem with Berlin’s new airport is that two federal states, Brandenburg and Berlin, are involved in the planning. In Germany, the federal states are very strong politically, and conflicts of interests are frequent. Although experts endorsed the Sperenberg site (in Brandenburg), political pressure came from Berlin to build at Schönefeld, so that the city would not lose thousands of jobs to an airport 40 miles outside its boundaries.

Tempelhof, Berlin’s iconic downtown airport, was closed in 2008 and turned into a popular park. There was quite a bit of opposition to the closure, in particular among West Berliners, and a referendum was held to keep the airport open.

While it was a political decision that Berlin should have a single airport, there are now doubts on whether the proposed solution—building a new airport from scratch—is still valid or not.

By closing Tempelhof and eventually Tegel, Berlin would have voluntarily given up the capacity of two working airports in a booming city, replacing it with that of an airport that will only serve at its full potential once doors are open, with little space for future growth, and with billions of Euros of wasted taxpayers’ money.