Here's How Berlin Brandenburg Airport Became One of the Biggest Engineering Failures

The airport opened for commercial traffic 29 years after its official planning.
Loukia Papadopoulos

If you haven't heard of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), you're not alone. The airport's opening, which was once slated for October 2011, has been mired in scandal and incompetence causing the construction to not support nearly the traffic it can handle.

At the time of its scheduled first opening, inspectors reviewing the airport reported some 120,000 defects, including fire safety issues and around 170,000 kilometers (106,000 miles) of cable installed in and around the airport that was dangerously wired. Indeed, everything seemed to be going wrong for BER.

It took more than nine years to fix the airport's problems, and in October of 2020, the officials announced it was ready for takeoff. But its success came at a troubling time: the coronavirus pandemic has significantly reduced travel around the world and so the airport has remained relatively empty.

Even worse, the airport has given the once-famous Made-in-Germany brand a bad reputation. BER has now come to represent incompetent public administration and financial mismanagement that result in the failure of big projects.

What went so wrong with the airport? "The supervisory board was full of politicians who had no idea how to supervise the project,"  Prof Genia Kostka, of the Free University of Berlin, told BBC. "They were in charge of key decisions."

Some may say the project was doomed from the beginning. It all began in 1990, with developers taking six years to settle on a spot to build. After, that the official groundbreaking took another decade to happen.

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As more and more problems arose, private investors disappeared leaving the state alone to finance and oversee construction. The global financial crisis in 2007-08 made it difficult to attract a contractor to build and fund the airport.

At that point, the project should have been put on hold but the politicians plowed on, using public money. This led to the original opening being delayed time and time again.

But perhaps all is well that ends well. BER finally opened for commercial traffic 14 years after construction started and 29 years after official planning was launched. Today, the scandalous airport is set to become the third busiest in Germany surpassing Düsseldorf Airport.

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