Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Germans embarrassed by failure of new Berlin airport project

The Willy Brandt International Airport is one of a string of big-ticket projects hit by cost overruns and delays that undermine the nation’s fabled engineering skills

By Kirsten Grieshaber  /  AP, BERLIN

In the case of the Berlin airport, Pankin said, there were about 300 ad hoc change requests by politicians, which created an explosion of costs and several delays — among them a last-minute wish to expand the terminal to include a shopping mall.

“The airport is a classic example of the incompetence of our politicians,” said Sven Fandrich, a 28-year-old Berliner who works for an insurance company. “We’ve seen this happen with many big infrastructure projects in Germany. Nobody feels responsible. The politicians are more concerned about winning the next elections than devoting their service to the people.”

Hamburg’s concert hall was to have opened by 2010. Instead it is nowhere near complete and costs have more than doubled to 575 million euros (US$749,57 million). It is now due to open in 2016.

Construction on Cologne’s North-South subway line began in 2004. After cost overruns and a collapse that killed two people in 2009, officials say the entire line may not be open until 2019. Costs have soared from 780 million euros to 1.08 billion euros.

In Leipzig, the city tunnel for commuter trains was expected to open in 2009. Construction is still not finished, and costs have jumped from 572 million euros to 960 million euros.

BUNGLE IN BERLIN

Of all the bungled projects, the Berlin airport is the biggest embarrassment.

The initial plan foresaw building a stately airport that would be financed by private investors and replace the city’s two Cold War airports — Tegel in former West Berlin and Schoenefeld in what was the communist east.

After a series of disputes with private investors, the city, state and federal governments eventually took over the airport project. In 2006, costs were estimated at 2 billion euros, but after four delays, the figure spiked to 4.4 billion euros.

Companies like Air Berlin, Germany’s second-biggest carrier, have been severely affected by the delays and are suing for lost revenues. Small businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores or bus operators — who had already hired staff and invested in new stores at the airport — are facing bankruptcy.

Twitter users asked the mayor to “please open this gate,” playing off then-US president Ronald Reagan’s famous 1987 appeal to Moscow to “tear down” the Berlin Wall.

By the time the airport finally opens, it may face a new headache. Some aviation experts are warning that by its inauguration date, the airport will already be too small to handle the rising number of passengers. The 360,000m2 airport complex was designed to handle 27 million passengers, but the existing two city airports handled 25 million passengers last year — and the city keeps attracting more visitors every year.

“The airport is too expensive, too small and too much behind time,” said aviation expert Dieter Faulenbach da Costa, who recently caused a stir when he proposed that the airport ought to be torn down.

In an effort to salvage the mess, Hartmut Mehdorn, the hardnosed former boss of the German railway system with a reputation for turning around failing corporations, was named chief executive of the airport early last month.

“The whole world says it’s not possible at all,” Mehdorn said when he took over. “I say: It should be possible. “I just don’t know how yet.”

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