Court gives Berlin airport the go-ahead

By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin

(PresseBox) ( Berlin, )
A 10-year battle to give the capital of unified Germany an airport worthy of this position ended with a victory for Berlin on Thursday when the country’s highest administrative court nodded through the €2bn ($2.4bn, £1.4bn) project.

The go-ahead for eastern Germany’s largest infrastructure project since reunification triggered a collective sigh of relief among Berlin’s politicians and business people. Expected to create 40,000 jobs, Berlin-Brandenburg International (BBI) will provide a welcome stimulus for the region’s depressed economy.

“This is the most important decision to have been made under my term,” Klaus Wowereit, Berlin’s mayor since 2001, told a press conference. “Had the ruling gone differently, it would have been my bitterest defeat.”

Closing the largest administrative case in postwar Germany, the federal administrative court in Leipzig dismissed challenges by residents and four municipalities near the future airport.

However, the judges imposed conditions on the project, including a ban on flights between 12am and 5am, dashing hopes of BBI gaining an edge over Frankfurt and Munich, the country’s main air hubs, where restrictions on night traffic already apply.
The new hub is scheduled to open in 2011 on the site of Schönefeld airport, a small facility in the south-east of Berlin. Once the airport serving Communist east Berlin, it is now mainly used by discount airlines.

With the planned closure of the small Tegel and Nazi-era Tempelhof airfields, both near the centre in the former western districts, Berlin will finally shed an air traffic structure inherited from its 50-year separation.

“Even without hyperbole,” said Matthias Platzeck, state premier of Brandenburg, the vast, largely rural state that surrounds Berlin, “I can say today’s decision is the most far-reaching made since reunification for the future of the entire region.”

Berlin has lost two-thirds of its manufacturing jobs since the collapse of the Wall 16 years ago and its economy has shrunk by a tenth in the past decade. At 18 per cent, it has the highest unemployment rate of all large German cities.

The examples of Frankfurt and Freising, the small town on whose territory Munich’s airport is located, have shown that the presence of a large international airport substantially boosted the local economy, economists say. “This decision is a green light to American and Asian investors,” said Peter Strunk, spokesman for Adlershof, Germany’s largest science and technology park, five minutes away from Schönefeld. “For us, it is a breakthrough.”
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