Berlin: Building for Tomorrow

The new Capital City Berlin Brandenburg International Airport was scheduled to open in October 2011, but may be delayed. (Berliner Flughafen)

Tom Allett explains how Berlin is in the process of swapping three airports for just one state-of-the-art facility.

The new Capital City Berlin Brandenburg International Airport was scheduled to open in October 2011, but may be delayed. (Berliner Flughafen)

As the saying goes, less is sometimes more and that is certainly what the management team of airport operator Berliner Flughafen believes.
 
Less than two years ago Germany’s capital had three airports, but following the closure of the historic Tempelhof on October 30, 2008, just two remain.
The current two airports lie in the Berlin Brandenburg area, and the new vision that will supersede Schoenefeld, to the southeast of the city, will become Capital Airport Berlin Brandenburg International (BBI).
Schoenefeld is well on the way to being redeveloped and if completed on schedule in 2011 the capital will say Auf Wiedersehen to Tegel.
While everything looked to be going well, this prestige project recently hit a potential problem that, at the time of writing, has yet to be resolved.
Mulheim-based IGK-IGR, part of a consortium providing technical building services, was declared insolvent in February, prompting the project coordinator WSP CBP to advise Berliner Flughafen that the construction schedule for the new BBI may have to be delayed.  The rest of the consortium has moved to reassure the airport operator that the October 2011 opening date is not in doubt, but the potential implications are still being studied.
And in addition to those hurdles, the latest European Union security legislation has now demanded a re-think.  Guidelines issued in May require airports to introduce larger passenger screening equipment by April 2013.  In BBI’s case this means the planned screening area is too small and Berliner Flughafen has issued a statement saying: “This will create considerable space problems at the screening gates and will have a significant impact on the configuration the [BBI] terminal.”  The operator was aiming to make a decision about what path it would take on June 25; the week after this edition went to press.
 
The Overall Plan
Visitors to today’s Schoenefeld and Tegel will know that both facilities have seen better times and the latter, though doing a workman-like job, is severely hampered by a lack of space to expand into and this has essentially sealed its long-term fate.
Such restrictions are the driving force behind Berliner Flughafen’s desire to effectively start again; building new facilities on the opposite side of the runway to Schoenefeld’s existing terminal area.  The plan is that when BBI opens its doors, the capital will offer business travellers, tourists and companies a high-tech airport with excellent connections, international flights, direct motorway access, and a rail station under the main terminal.
BBI’s railway station lies directly beneath its terminal building. (Berliner Flughafen)

My guide during a visit to the BBI construction site was Leif Erichsen from the airport’s press office.  He told me that it will take only 20 minutes for the airport shuttle to travel the 12.4 mile (20km) stretch of track into the city centre.  Furthermore he explained that the new BBI will have a positive effect on many Berliners by concentrating all the aircraft noise into one segment of the city – that which has the lowest population – and a compensation programme has been agreed with BBI’s near neighbours.  However, as you might expect, reaching this stage wasn’t an easy process.  In order to find the necessary space to create the new BBI, the village of Diepensee – and parts of Selchow – had to be demolished and their residents re-located.  A resettlement package was agreed back in June 1999 between the two communities and the three airport owners; the City of Berlin, the district of Brandenburg, and the Federal Republic of Germany.  Diepensee’s population was relocated in December 2004, and the people affected in Selchow were successfully moved out in July 2005.  Today, there is no trace of where Diepensee once stood.
 
 
Current Situation
At the time of writing, June 2010, the airport’s major building work is essentially complete and its construction team is now committed to the fitting-out.  However, despite reaching an advanced stage, Mr Erichsen pointed out that the overall project is still constantly-evolving and subject to redesigns as and when new regulations demand it.
The new terminal is described by its architects, gmp – von Gerkan, Mark und Partner, as being in the Bauhaus style with: “divided facades and clear geometric forms” which have been a feature of his previous work.
The central access road, still under construction, will be a tree-lined avenue, which: “picks up characteristic features from the townscapes and countryside of the Berlin/Brandenburg region.”
BBI’s terminal has a six-track railway station with three platforms directly underneath the building.  Construction work on the railway station began in July 2007.  Measuring 1,328ft x 197ft (405m x 60m) its platforms are accessed via stairs, lifts and moving walkways at the front of the terminal.
Conceived as the city’s new growth engine and future international traffic hub, BBI is expected to generate an initial passenger volume of more than 22 million a year.  But, due to the global economic downturn, like many other airports, it is far from clear when BBI will reach its design capacity.
 
Cargo
Rising passenger numbers bring the hope that the amount of belly freight handled will also significantly increase.  From Berlin, this usually comprises machinery, electronics products and pharmaceuticals, while imports are predominantly textiles from China or fresh produce from Thailand.  BBI’s management team estimates that each new long-haul destination the airport attracts will add an additional annual capacity of between 1,000 and 3,000 tons of air cargo.
 

Berlin’s Tegel will close when BBI opens. (KEY-Tom Allett)

ATC Tower
 
The architectural and technical design of the new 236ft (72m) ATC tower (see front cover), operated by the German air traffic provider DFS (Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH), has an elliptical shape with just four supports and its visual control room will accommodate eleven staff.  When the €35 million (US$42.9 million) facility enters service, hopefully next autumn, Schoenefeld’s existing tower is likely to be preserved as a standby facility.
 
‘Green’ BBI
Berliner Flughafen says that concentrating all of the city’s air traffic at a single location offers ecological benefits over the current airport system – which is fragmented due to the historical division of Berlin – in terms of reducing land use and disturbances from noise and traffic.
Economic operating and maintenance costs are a pivotal element in the planning for BBI.  The developer says its engineers place great emphasis on ensuring that the individual buildings and structures achieve optimum energy consumption levels.  In addition to the use of what it describes as: “highly innovative heat recycling systems” the planning concept is also exploring the integration of geothermal heating systems or possibly the use of rainwater for cooling.”
 
Noise
By closing the inner-city airports of Tegel and Tempelhof, hundreds of thousands of citizens in the region will be permanently relieved from aircraft noise.  Around Schoenefeld Airport, on the other hand, the noise from aircraft will increase with the expansion.  To guarantee the Schoenefeld’s neighbours the greatest possible protection, the BBI planners are exceeding the current legal regulations and will apply the more rigid limits that will be imposed in the revised Aircraft Noise Act.
In a familiar move amongst many recently-designed facilities, its own 16-hectare Airport City will be built directly in front of the new terminal.  It will comprise a number of variable plots said to offer sufficient space for five to six-storey buildings with a total floor area of 1,593,110 sq ft (148,000m2).  A hotel complex, conference centre, substantial office space and associated services will also be provided, along with parking spaces for up to 14,000 cars.  Recreational aspects haven’t been forgotten either and open green areas are also included in the design.
BBI is currently seeking companies that are interested in investing in the Airport City site.
 
Recent Schedule Highlights
2008 The old north runway is demolished.  First section of the airport’s railway station is completed.  Construction starts on terminal building.  Tempelhof Airport closes.
2009 Terminal structural work completed.  Work on south pier begins.  Underground station expanded and tunnels completed.  Construction begins on the south runway, ATC tower, fire stations and aircraft parking areas.
2010 Major terminal construction work completed, topping-out ceremony held, new fire station opens.
2011 May – New terminal’s operational trials begin.  October 30, BBI opens and Tegel closes.