You’re walking through a gleaming airport
terminal with screens displaying flight details and dozens of gates waiting for airplanes
to pull in. Only… the building is completely empty. No people, no planes, no nothing. Nope,
it’s not the plot of a new horror movie, but a real airport in Berlin, Germany, that
has stayed brand-new and untouched for a whole 7 years. But let’s start from the very beginning! I
mean, why would Berlin need a new airport at all? Berlin already has two airports: Tegel,
situated in the north-west of Berlin, and Schönefeld, in the south-east. To be precise,
there used to be one more airport in Berlin, called Tempelhof. But having opened in 1923,
the airport was very old, and despite a long history and amazing architecture, it was shut
down in 2008. The two remaining airports are also pretty
old and can’t manage all the air traffic and passenger flow anymore. That’s why the idea
of building one large, modern airport that would handle most of the flights in Berlin
was met with enthusiasm. Even more, the airport was supposed to become the third biggest airport
in Germany, after Frankfurt and Munich. But the more I learned about this new Brandenburg
Airport, the more I wondered if this construction could be… you know… cursed? The ghost
airport turned out to be one big problem: incredibly long delays, malfunctioning equipment,
and costs that exceeded the initial budget by 3 and a half times! At first, the construction
of the airport was supposed to cost about 2.2 billion dollars (2 billion euro), which
really isn’t that much, speaking about airports. But no such luck! Today, the number has already
reached a staggering 8.2 billion dollars (7.3 billion euro), and that’s not even the final
figure! The construction of the airport started in
2006, and the plan was to open the airport in the summer of 2012. However, the opening
has been put off several times and is already almost 3,000 days overdue. Some people believe
that the new airport is doomed and will have to be torn down and rebuilt.
So, what could be so wrong with the airport that it would fail to open for so many years?
Well… Imagine this: it’s almost June 2012, and the aviation world is ready and waiting
for the grand opening of the newest German airport. Several weeks before, thousands of
volunteers participate in the airport’s trial runs. They check in, go through security checks,
board dummy planes, and claim their baggage afterward. Everything goes more or less smoothly.
So, the media is prepared for round-the-clock coverage of the event and its VIP guests,
including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tickets for the flights leaving from the brand-new
location are sold. Lufthansa brings its newest Airbus A380 to make an inaugural flight from
Brandenburg Airport to Frankfurt. And then the unimaginable happens: at the
very last moment, the airport’s opening is called off due to some mysterious “technical
issues.” And one of the main problems (yep, there are lots!) is a fire-alarm system which
turns out to be too complicated and, what’s worse – faulty! A special commission finds
out that in case of a real fire, smoke is going to be pumped downward, deep below the
terminal building, instead of going up through the ceiling, as hot air is supposed to. On
top of that, about 3,000 fire detectors are missing, and some of the remaining ones don’t
work properly. Not a problem, the administration says. We’ll
position several hundred 24/7 observers around the airport, and if they notice smoke, they’ll
inform everyone and open the doors manually to let the smoke out. Um, what?
But wait, that’s not all! There are problems with check-in desks as well. When the airport
was testing their efficiency with all those volunteers, each check-in desk had to serve
about 60 passengers per hour. Unfortunately, check-in staff only managed to handle half
that number. The solution to potential check-in delays? Oh, you’ll never guess! They proposed
to set up tents outside the airport for the passengers of “second-class” airlines to check
in! Of course, it has to last only until more permanent check-in desks are installed.
Also, as time passes, other problems get detected: escalators are too short, almost 300,000 ft
(91,000 m) of cable are installed incorrectly, 4,000 doors have wrong numbers, the wiring
gets overheated, and – brace yourself – there are serious structural problems with the ceiling.
In short, the roof may actually collapse. That’s probably because it’s twice as heavy
as its authorized weight. As a result, construction workers have to be very careful when they
go to rebuild elements from scratch. However, in 2017, during a new safety check
of the airport, the commission discovers new flaws, including issues with fire detection,
sprinklers, smoke control, and exhaust (yep, once again).
Nowadays, all 750 flight information displays have to be replaced since they’ve been working
since the original opening date and have sadly reached their limit. Hundreds of light bulbs
are constantly on because the airport staff can’t figure out how to switch them off. An
empty train runs 5 miles (8 km) toward the non-functioning airport every day so that
the tracks don’t get rusty. Also, it seems that the emergency access for the fire department
has some fails as well. And still, these aren’t even all the hardships
the Brandenburg airport will deal with. The place is designed to be a big hub airport.
(That’s what they call an airport that serves as a stop-over point to get passengers to
their final destination.) And the main tenant of Brandenburg airport is supposed to be airline
company Air Berlin. But in 2017, this carrier went bankrupt! And even though Lufthansa promises
to take over several routes of Air Berlin, they still aren’t ready to move their main
hubs from Munich and Frankfurt to Berlin. And look, if an airport is the connecting
hub of an airline company, its big size and vast shopping area make perfect sense. People
spend hours waiting for their connecting flights, all the while strolling around the airport,
visiting stores, and eating at the airport’s numerous cafes and restaurants. And that’s
where another problem with Brandenburg Airport lies. It’s located pretty far away from the
city, and not all the passengers will be willing to make such a long journey to catch a short
direct flight. It’s true that some big international airports, let’s say, Tokyo Narita Airport,
are situated far from the cities they serve. But with lots of connecting passengers, the
proximity of the hub to the city doesn’t matter at all.
On top of that, even when the airport opens, chances are it’ll be too small to handle
all the flights and passenger traffic. The two currently functioning Berlin airports,
Tegel and Schönefeld, serve approximately 33 million passengers a year, and the new
Brandenburg Airport’s capacity is only 27 million people a year.
Interestingly, Brandenburg Airport has already experienced what it feels like to be a real
functioning airport with landing planes and all. In August 2017, no aircraft were allowed
to land at Tegel Airport because the police were deactivating some unexploded World War
II ordnance. That’s why several commercial jets had to land at Berlin Brandenburg Airport.
But if you think passengers had an exciting time wondering around deserted arrival halls
and empty shopping areas, think again. The travelers couldn’t leave their planes at all:
there were neither mobile stairs brought to the planes nor buses to pick the passengers
up. Only at 11 PM did the police allow the use of Tegel Airport again. The planes that
were stuck in Brandenburg Airport took off, and one extremely short flight later, the
passengers were able to finally disembark on their original destination point. Wow. I’ve seen airport delays before but
this? Hmm! Hey, Do you know about any other unusual or deserted airports? Let me know
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