Berlin’s Tegel Airport will stay open, limp along for a few more months

Jun 4, 2020

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It’s not time to say “auf weidersehen” to Berlin’s Tegel Airport (TXL) just yet. The close-to-downtown airport will continue operating for at least a few more months, extending the life of an airport that could have closed to flights in less than two weeks.

That comes after Berlin’s airport authority — the Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg GmbH, or FBB —   agreed just last month to a plan that would “temporarily” shutter Tegel beginning 15 June.

The airport was already slated to close in the fall, coinciding with the opening of the city’s long-delayed, new Brandenberg (BER) facility. The expectation was that the “temporary” closure to Tegel would become permanent, and that the airport would just never reopen.

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Tegel has far outgrown its design capacity, with passenger numbers testing its operational limits in recent years. Despite that, the airport remained popular with many travellers for its compact size (few long walks) and convenient location to central Berlin.

But in the last few months, the coronavirus-fuelled demand slump sent passenger traffic tumbling at German airports — just as it has in many other countries around the world. With that downturn, TXL’s operators had been planning to consolidate flights at Schönefeld, the city’s other existing airport that sits adjacent to the nearly-completed BER.

However, as travel restrictions across Europe ease and passenger traffic rebounds, the FBB thinks it could benefit from the extra capacity and has altered course on plans to close Tegel. It now plans to keep the airport open until BER is finally ready, with a planned opening date of 31 October, The Associated Press reported.

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Berlin’s airport saga has become a legendary aviation nightmare.

It was originally slated to open in 2011, but its inauguration has been repeatedly delayed by a series of construction and engineering snafus, and project management problems. Among the issues: one of the main contractors went bankrupt and new building’s fire detection system was deemed ineffective and unsafe. The latter issue was particularly embarrassing for airport authorities, forcing them to scrap a planned 2012 grand opening less than a month before flights were supposed to begin. A management shakeup ensued, and now — more than eight years later — the airport has yet to open after several more planned opening dates that have come and gone.

There’s a whole English-language podcast about the issue if you want to take a deep dive — though stay away if you’re easily offended by strong language.

For now though, Tegel will continue serving as Berlin’s main airport. Originally constructed to serve as a gateway to West Berlin during the Cold War era, the airport is known for its 1970s architecture and a layout that struggles to accommodate crucial aspects of modern air travel, like pre-flight security checks.

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Featured photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images.

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