The long way to a modern airport for Germany´s vibrant capital
Berlin is the only place in the eastern part of Germany with a large-scale international airport – Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL). The other airports outside of Berlin are much smaller, with Leipzig / Halle Airport (LEJ) and Dresden Airport (DRS) being the only ones with more than one million passengers per year.
The reasons for this can be found in Germany´s past. Traveling in the former socialist GDR had been a privilege to few and the poor economic performance of East Germany also limited progress in the aviation industry. This can still be felt in Berlin, which in spite of being Germany´s largest city with more than 3,5 Million inhabitants has no airport that ranks among the top three in Germany. Frankfurt, Munich, and Düsseldorf – all much smaller cities are the leading airports of the country.
Berlin still operates with two older airports from each sector of the once-divided city – Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL) in the western part, and Berlin Schönefeld Airport (SXF) in the east. Shortly after reunification, plans emerged to build a new, big and prestigious airport for Germany´s reunified capital. Finally, in 2004, the decision was made in favor of the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), a super-hub with a capacity for 40 Million passengers.
Early plans scheduled the opening of Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) to 2010, a date which could not be met. Two additional years were needed for construction work and bureaucratic efforts and finally, in 2012, the new airport was ready to begin operations. At least this was what everybody thought, as just some weeks before the big opening party, severe problems were uncovered and the big inauguration had to be canceled.
Now, nearly five years later – the airport is still not ready to start operating. Problems persist and it might take until 2019 or even later until Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) might replace the two existing airports of Berlin. Those have seen strong passenger growth in the recent years and are nearing maximum capacity. Flight delays, flight cancellations and fly right discussions have become a more frequent issue, especially with the occurrence of bad weather conditions. Germany´s largest airlines Lufthansa (LH) (including subsidiaries Eurowings (EW) /Germanwings (4U)), Air Berlin (AB) and many international carriers such as Etihad (EY) offer direct connections to Berlin as the most trendy city of Europe.
Berlin Brandenburg Airport: Opening 2018/2019; Capacity: 40 million passengers
Berlin Tegel (TXL) Airport: Operating since 1948; 21.253.959 passengers in 2016
Berlin Schönefeld (SXF): Operating since 1946; 11.652.922 passengers in 2016
Leipzig/Halle (LEJ): Operating since 1927; 2.192.145 passengers in 2016
Dresden (DRS): Operating since 1935; 1.667.880 passengers in 2016
Rostock-Laage (RLG): Operating since 1992; 250.199 passengers in 2016
Erfurt-Weimar (ERF): Operating since 1935; 229.048 passengers in 2016
Stralsund-Barth Airport (BBH): Operating since 1936; 20.500 passengers in 2016
Schwerin-Parchim (SZW): Operating since 1992; 1.560 passengers in 2016
Neubrandenburg (FNB): Operating since 1934; 1.044 passengers in 2016
Magdeburg-Cochstedt (CSO): Operating since 1957; 70.000 passengers in 2011, currently not active
Important regional airports: Leipzig, Dresden, Rostock, Erfurt
Leipzig / Halle Airport (LEJ) serves over two million passengers per year which makes it the biggest eastern German airport outside of Berlin. Dresden Airport (DRS), which is not so far away, is the only other airport with higher passenger numbers (1,5 million in 2016).
There are however some smaller regional airports with international connections and local importance, such as Rostock-Laage Airport (RLG) and Erfurt-Weimar Airport (ERF). Both have about a quarter million passengers per year and many seasonal connections to holiday destinations such as Spain, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, and Egypt.
They also offer some special connections with just a hand full of flights in the summer to complement their offering with destinations in Norway, Ireland, Poland and the Channel Islands between continental Europe and the UK. Military usage is another factor for those two locations that brings in some additional money.
Mini-Airports in Eastern Germany
The rest of the other airports in Germany´s east are rather tiny and not really suitable for traveling purposes. Magdeburg-Cochstedt (CSO) did still have some scheduled connections and quite some passenger volume (70.000/year) but was shut down in 2016.
Stralsund-Barth Airport (BBH), Schwerin-Parchim Airport (SZW) and Neubrandenburg Airport (FNB) are the names of the remaining eastern German airports. They are mostly used for private flights, flight schools, and tourism purposes. Since 2007, Stralsund Barth Airport (BBH) is owned by a Chinese logistics company that operates some cargo flights between the city of Zhengzhou and Germany since then.
Given the lower population density of Eastern Germany and the existence of many large-scale airport hubs across the country, growth will be limited there. Once Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) opens its doors, it will however lead to some shifts in Germany´s aviation landscape.