Never-ending construction: Berlin’s unfinished airport still plagued by ‘fundamental faults’

Never-ending construction: Berlin’s unfinished airport still plagued by ‘fundamental faults’
Berlin’s international airport in Brandenburg has turned into a sort of unending construction project due to numerous technical problems. Now, even the airport systems that were deemed ready-to-use were found to be malfunctioning.

More than 2,000 days since the initially scheduled opening, the end of construction of the infamous airport dubbed “the building site of horror” is still not in sight. A recent inspection has once again found “fundamental failures” in the operation of the airport safety systems that were considered fully functional.

Six out of every ten systems examined by the inspectors do not function properly, a report issued by German audit company TUV Rheinland Group says. “The tested systems and equipment partially do not meet the required standards,” the document issued early November and recently obtained by the German Tagesspiegel daily says.

It further states that “the operational safety and effectiveness of the faulty systems cannot be conclusively certified,” adding, that the operation level of the smoke extraction systems is still “unacceptable.” The report says further that inspectors identified “further faults and deficiencies” in the sprinkler systems, fire alarms and emergency lighting.

The commission discovered all these faults while examining the Mainpier Nord area of the airport’s main terminal, which was considered a rather well functioning section of the facility. According to Tagesspiegel, those responsible for the construction said they were confident that “not much” can happen there.

However, it turned out that after more than five years of refurbishing the terminal, its faulty systems still do not work. Notably, many deficiencies listed in the report are similar to the defects identified as early as in 2011/2012.

“The faults identified during the tests of the technical safety systems are in many cases systemic ones and can affect other yet untested systems or facilities of the passenger terminal,” the damning report says. The alarming findings of the inspection even prompted TUV Rheinland to promptly cancel its examination of a section of the Mainpier Sued main terminal, Tagesspiegel reports.

The sprinkler systems particularly seem to be a nemesis for the unfortunate construction debacle. Initial problems were identified in 2011, and the inspectors identified it as an issue again in 2016. In July 2017, the same problem persisted, prompting airport chief executive Engelbert Luetke Daldrup to announce plans to create a special 3D model of the airport to work out a detailed plan of the modification of some 78,000 fire extinguisher cartridges scattered across the building.

Later, airport management declared that 80 percent of the sprinkler systems were operational. However, it turned out that 49 out of 104 extinguishing areas of the sprinkler systems have problems with “impermissible pressure losses or excessively high flow rates.”

All the newly identified shortcomings mean the airport is unlikely to be opened in 2019.  Daldrup plans to announce the facility’s opening date on December 15.

The airport is now six years behind schedule and several times over its initial budget. The original budget of €2.5 billion ($2.98 billion) has since ballooned to €6.6 billion ($7.87 billion).

The airport has also become a laughing stock for many Germans, who say their tax euros were spent on a project bedevilled by technical hurdles and alterations. The one success airport management can ‘boast’ about, is that after 11 years of construction, 51 percent of the airport’s automated doors are fully functional.

In 2015, some politicians mockingly suggested that the airport building should be demolished and a new one built from scratch. Meanwhile, the humiliating history of delays have turned the airport into a sort of a tourist attraction, as Germans started offering two-hour tours to what is now dubbed as the “ghost airport.”