New Berlin airport delayed again due to technical issues: Mayor

BERLIN (AFP) - The opening of Berlin's new main airport has been postponed indefinitely after several previous delays, the city's mayor said on Monday, in a fresh blow for the German capital and its top official.

Mr Klaus Wowereit said the "opening date of Oct 27 this year can no longer be maintained" due to a series of technical issues. He said he was resigning from his position as head of the airport's supervisory board as a result, amid ever-louder calls for him to step down as the city's mayor. 

The supervisory board will be headed by Matthias Platzeck, the head of the state of Brandenburg where the airport is situated, said Mr Wowereit. The Berlin-Brandenburg Airport was originally slated to open its doors in June 2012 but has suffered multiple delays due to a raft of technical difficulties and construction errors. 

Mr Wowereit said he was unwilling to offer another date for the opening "given the experience we have had", adding: "I have the impression all the people working on the airport are doing everything they can to overcome the problems." However, he said he would not resign as mayor.

Mr Sebastian Rudolph, a spokesman for the federal transport ministry, said the government had received a letter from airport authorities over the weekend, informing them of the fresh delay.

Without going into details, the letter listed "certain problem areas, with the fire protection system being the biggest problem," Mr Rudolph told a regular government news conference.

"The situation is serious," said Mr Rudolph.

The latest delay has taken place because the fire system has been built in a different way from what was specified on its building permit, said mass circulation daily Bild.

"What a scandal. The capital is making a fool out of the whole country," Bild said, citing internal airport documents saying an opening was possible "in 2014 at the earliest." Local tabloid BZ said the new airport had become a "mega disaster" for the city.

The calamity in one of Germany's largest construction projects has dented the popularity of Mr Wowereit, accused of incompetence and underestimating the problems linked to the building of the new airport.

Without citing its sources, Bild said that Wowereit had already offered to resign if the 2013 start date could not be met. "What conclusions will you draw now, Mr Wowereit?" asked the paper.

A spokesman for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the ministry was "surprised" by the new emergence of problems but that it was "too early to calculate" the financial implications.

The country's top two airlines, Lufthansa and Air Berlin, have also expressed outrage over the repeated delays to the project, on the site of the current Schoenefeld Airport, southeast of the city.

Expressing its "disappointment" over the new delay, Air Berlin said that "a renewed postponement means that the unsatisfactory situation for all passengers will continue." Berlin's airports are not the country's busiest, with Schoenefeld and Tegel combined welcoming around 24 million visitors a year - less than half the 56 million passengers serviced at Frankfurt airport in western Germany.

But the new airport, to be named after former chancellor Willy Brandt, was intended to accommodate the sharp rise in air traffic to the region seen in the two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification.