Berlin Brandenburg Airport – why doesn’t it take off

Fotolia_57651378_MItaly is famous for fashion, France for its food culture, and Germany...? Germany is famous for its excellence in engineering, right? “Made in Germany” guarantees quality, rigorous reliability, and eternal endurance. No doubt. But Germany’s self-conception is experiencing a serious setback at the moment. The construction of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), once proclaimed as Germany’s new heavyweight infrastructure project, has become a real nightmare, worse even, an embarrassment. Originally planned to be opened in 2010, the mobility hub is still not ready for use as all the business mobility will continue to happen at the old Tegel Airport or the suburban Schönefeld Airport. The management is not to blame – says the management. But so far, they’ve managed only to get trapped in the nets of their own making.

Commanders without knowledge

When you’re in charge of running a gigantic infrastructure project, it is vital that you actively and regularly collect information on what’s going on. That’s project management for beginners. If you take a look at the board of directors, lead by Berlin’s Mayor Mr. Klaus Wowereit (up until his resignation from it in January 2013), one thing will strike you immediately: none of its members ever worked for a similar mobility project in the past.[1] They’re all politicians and surprisingly close to Mr. Wowereit personally. So even if they had hunted down every piece of information, which insiders say did not happen, they couldn’t have used it to manage critical situations due to an immense lack of expertise.

Trust, but verify (correctly)

When experts of the German Technical Inspection Association (TÜV) started investigating the premises in late 2011, they were shocked about the airport’s poor state. Eight months later, the inspectors had recorded more than 66.500 safety deficiencies.[2] Walls were missing, ceilings were bending due to too much weight, and the high-tech fire protection system was installed without considering basic laws of physics. All of this could have been avoided. As a start, instead of employing one architecture team, the board gave the job to two firms that had previously competed with each other. Much worse, however, the board did not employ a third-party to carry out the controlling. In the end, the same two architecture teams were also hired to carry out the controlling. Both firms made mistakes, but then chose to cover them up rather than notifying the board. When the TÜV gave its verdict both firms were fired immediately.

A hopeless scenario?

The outcome of all of this is a complete mess – so far. By the end of 2014, more than 5 billion Euros will have been spent on the airport. Originally, costs were estimated to be around 2 billion Euros. A budget raise is not uncommon but the fact remains – after multiple budget increases – the airport is nowhere close to being done is appalling.

A hopeful scenario!

Apart from all the difficulties stated above, Berlin-Brandenburg does not have its byname “a new-generation airport” for no reason. Once it is finished, it will have a planned starting capacity of 27 million people and a possibility of an expansion up to 45 million passengers – turning this airport into a mobility hub designed to handle the capacity forecasted for the coming decades. All facilities within the airport are designed to provide an easy reach since the terminal is located between two parallel runways making it functional and attractive to business travellers, tourists and companies as it will offer best possible connections, international flights, direct motorway access, and a directly accessible railway station[3].

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