Berlin Brandenburg Airport Project
The construction of what is currently the largest airport project in Europe began on 5 September 2006 and was due to be completed in autumn 2010 but was repeatedly postponed due to a multitude of technical problems and budget overruns. According to management, the airport is finally scheduled to open in October 2020.
The airport project, initially costing EUR 2 billion, which has been regularly revised upward, to reach 6.6 billion euros in 2016, provides for an initial capacity of 27 million passengers per year. Once in operation, the airport will replace those of Berlin Tegel and Berlin-Schönefeld
Introduction to the Project
The story begins in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Planning for a new airport had been announced and at that time it became clear that the new – now reunited – capital would need a modern, functionally more efficient airport to handle passenger transport compared to its two old – Cold War – airports: Tegel (in the former West Berlin) and Schönefeld (in the former East Berlin).
The genesis of the project dates back to 1996, when it was decided to create a platform worthy of capital such as Berlin. The Schönefeld site, already home to an international airport, was chosen. The foundation stone was laid in September 2006, with delivery scheduled for 2010 and 2012. The construction site is huge, and the quotes provided by the two private companies responding to the call for tenders are exorbitant. Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of the city, decided to entrust the construction to a public institution created for the occasion, bringing together Berlin, the State and the Land of Brandenburg in equal parts. He was sure of his decision and appointed himself as head of the supervisory board that was to oversee the project. With an initial budget of 2 billion euros and a capacity of 22 million passengers per year, Berlin Brandenburg International Airport, or BBI, would be the great achievement of its mandate. However, its opening date has been repeatedly postponed and the deadline has now been delayed by many years. The official target is now October 2020, even though some people fundamentally believe that the best solution would be to tear it down and rebuild it all.
Introduction of the project’s Project Management.
Between corruption, errors and defects.
During the initial pre-tests, it was found that the check-in counters were not able to handle as many people as expected. There is even talk of installing additional counters outside in tents! These counters would have been used by second-tier airlines while the locals, Lufthansa and Air Berlin in particular, would have used the normal counters.
But it won’t come to that, because another problem will delay the opening of the airport: smoke detectors not only defective but installed without a permit.
On top of that, more than 90,000 meters of cable were incorrectly installed, 4,000 doors were incorrectly numbered, and the escalators were too short.
For the record, the system had been designed to suck the smoke down, under the airport floor, while as everyone knows, the smoke rises. Everything has to be changed and the opening rested until 2013. It will then be realized that the person who designed the fire detection system was not qualified to do so.
In the end, more than half a million problems are identified and have to be solved.
Would it have been easier to just give up everything then? Certainly, but after you’ve already invested, it’s hard to give it all up. Then the authorities will be stubborn.
Every month between the works, maintenance and security of the site, 10M€ are swallowed up. Many heads fall then for corruption, leading to a certain float at the head of the project.
Finally, the date of 2014 is envisaged. A new invitation to tender is published for the resumption in the hand of the building site but no answer will satisfy the authorities.
At the end of 2015, the airport is still not open and continues to consume astronomical sums to be maintained in the state.
In 2016 it appears that the airport will not be able to obtain the certification for its metro station in the necessary time. The opening is postponed to 2017.
An airport without a resident company
Bad luck, 2017 is the year of Air Berlin’s bankruptcy, which wanted to make Berlin its hub, whereas having already hubs in Frankfurt and Munich, it sees Berlin as just an end-of-the-line airport. A headache for the manager because even if Lufthansa will take over some of Air Berlin’s routes, such a big airport without an airline using it as a hub makes no economic sense. So much so that it was considered to keep Tegel for medium-haul and point-to-point services, which would have been more convenient for passengers but an even worse economic disaster.
In the aftermath, new safety tests are carried out and defects are discovered in the fire detectors and sprinklers! An opening is announced between 2019 and 2022.
During all this time to keep the information screens up and running, they have been made to broadcast information on flights from other airports. In 2018 these screens are burnt out and need to be replaced.
Analysis of the project’s Project Management.
The Airports Committee in the Berlin Parliament told that such mistakes, and the decision to correct them instead of starting all over again, were the main reason for the soaring costs. The failure to open the airport in 2012 ‘should have led to the decision to empty the building completely and dismantle all the complicated facilities,’ he said. ‘If that had happened, the airport would have been up and running for a long time, with newer, less complex facilities.
Indeed, one might wonder why, as soon as these numerous problems became apparent, the Berlin airport company did not decide to abandon the project and start again from scratch.
In many ways, this is a classic example of the so-called ‘sunk cost illusion’; people (or in this case organizations) are often reluctant to cut their losses when they have already invested time or resources in something, even though it would seem logical to do so. This is a phenomenon that is not only relevant to large, high-cost projects such as this one, but also a way of thinking that can manifest itself in everyday working life. BER may indeed need an additional 200 employees to be able to operate safely. In addition, construction costs have increased, and funds would be needed to complete the main terminal and its extension between 2021 and 2024. The platform’s management team is now working on a new business plan, which will also be based on positive effects such as higher than initially expected future revenues due to expected higher traffic, as well as property revenues.
So, all is not won, especially as BER management acknowledges that there are still ‘complex’ deficiencies to be corrected by spring, mainly in the terminal cabling. ‘All the work that still needs to be done at BER is being carried out intensively. There is still a lot to be done in the next eleven months,’ acknowledged Engelbert Lütke Daldrup. Despite this, the airport’s management considers the date of October 31 to be ‘tenable and realistic’, as the deficiencies are known and are in the process of being resolved.
Thus, the start of tests on the platform is planned for April. It is expected to last six months. BER’s main terminal is scheduled to open during the second half of the year. It will be done in three stages, starting with the move of easyJet from Tegel to BER, company inaugurating the platform. The second wave of transfers is planned end of the year, followed by the last one. This is when the cut-off will fall on Tegel: the airport will cease operations end of the year.
Work on Terminal 2 is progressing according to schedule. While the building envelope should be completed in a few weeks, the installation of the baggage handling system and the construction of other technical equipment is underway. This airport extension, the construction of which has been brought forward following the setbacks in the main terminal, should be able to open at the same time as the main terminal. Located opposite the north pier, it will increase the capacity of the hub by six million passengers annually, bringing it to 28 million passengers. This will partially address its other shortcoming: an initial capacity that is insufficient in relation to the current traffic of Tegel, which will welcome 22 million passengers.
I would rather use the Prince2 method which is an easy and efficient method when you want to create a project. This method focuses on three points: project organization, management and control. If we take the example of Brandenburg airport, we would organize the project with reliable companies that have the required knowledge in terms of airports with budgets under control in advance. I would manage stage boundaries, moreover, new directives in order to ensure that the project partners complete the project by the deadline without delay due to manufacturing defects. I would control each security system and all construction related to the smooth operation of the airport…
Identification of key lessons learnt and discuss why they are key for project management.
We have selected the faults and technical problems that were encountered in the creation of Brandenburg Airport. Thus, the overruns that led this project to a significant financial and operating loss due to the significant delay in the construction of the airport. We would also like to point out that the selected companies were perhaps not the most successful. The timing was not also good enough. Each solution they had was shifted into bad ideas. To prevent the project from going over budget, the team should have looked at all pieces of equipment and items missing, and each service to determine how many of each the project would require. Also, it would be essential to determine the exact cost to not let the project go down the drain like this. We should understand that all projects require a risk management procedure that we have to get ahead of him so that we don’t end up in a situation that the airport has experienced. The project should have followed the realization and the project life cycle (conceive, develop, execute, finish).
The project was, unfortunately, a failure in terms of construction and cost.
After a decade of twists and turns, six postponements, resignations, bankruptcies, a case of corruption and a cost that has risen from 2 to 6.5 billion euros, the never-ending soap opera about the new Berlin-Brandenburg airport may have entered its final season. Only a few curious people, camera slung over their shoulders, come to trample on the tufts of wild grass that invade the deserted tracks. Four times a week, a bus travels the 30 kilometres that separate the airport from the capital and unload its load of incredulous visitors. The spectacle is indeed surprising, and sometimes bordering on surrealism. Many Berliners come to witness the fiasco of this publicly funded construction site, and thus their taxes. Little consolation; visitors can still eat at the Burger King, the only active business in the whole area.
In fact, BER airport is no longer as desolate as it was at the outset because in the meantime it has become, in a totally improbable way a real attraction: a fine example of schadenfreude, where tourists pay to take a tour of the ‘ghost airport’.
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- (Lufthansa Storing Grounded Aircraft At Unopened Berlin Airport – Simple Flying, 2020) Simple Flying. 2020. Lufthansa Storing Grounded Aircraft At Unopened Berlin Airport – Simple Flying. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 March 2020].
- (Julyssa Lopez, 2020) Julyssa Lopez, C., 2020. Berlin’s ‘Cursed’ Brandenburg Airport Finally Nears Completion. [online] CNN. Available at: [Accessed 15 March 2020].
- (Berlin’s ‘ghost’ airport might finally open—billions over budget and 8 years late, 2020) Fortune. 2020. Berlin’s ‘Ghost’ Airport Might Finally Open—Billions Over Budget And 8 Years Late. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 March 2020].