Berlin’s much delayed new airport welcomes first flights

BERLIN (AFP) – Berlin’s new international airport officially opened on Saturday nine years late, massively over-budget and in the middle of a virus-induced air transport crisis.

Two special flights operated by low-cost pioneer EasyJet and German national carrier Lufthansa touched down at Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt (BER) around 2pm after flying in from nearby Tegel Airport and Munich respectively.

“It’s a historic day,” Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr told reporters. “I still can’t believe it,” he had joked before leaving Munich.

Many Germans had almost given up on the airport after years of embarrassing delays, scandals and spiralling costs which saw the project meant to celebrate German reunification turned into a national laughing stock. Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer said he hoped the opening would mark “the end of jokes on BER”.

There was little fanfare given the deep crisis the aviation industry is going through amid the global coronavirus pandemic which has decimated travel demand. Adding to the muted celebrations, climate demonstrators marched on the building to show their opposition to the new facility.

Some brandished a banner reading “BER?: Take off! A crash flight into the climate crisis.”

“Flying represents a huge burden on the climate. We don’t need a new big airport,” said Ludwig Brautigam of the Extinction Rebellion collective.

Activists block an escalator to protest against the opening of the new Berlin-Brandenburg-Airport in Berlin, Germany. PHOTO: AP