New Berlin Airport Sparks Debate

In the wake of averted terrorist train bombings German officials said Berlin's long-awaited international airport will be equipped with the state-of-the art security systems.

Rainer Schwarz, head of Berlin Airports, the company that operates the three airports -- Tegel International, Tempelhof International, and Schoenefeld International -- that presently service the capital, said the new air hub, Berlin Brandenburg International, will feature a central control system all passengers will have to pass through.

"The big advantage of the BBI is that it will include from the beginning the newest technologies," he said at a news conference in Berlin. "Other airports will have to spend a lot of money to update their passenger and luggage control systems."

After Germany edged by a major terror attack, German government officials have urged transportation companies to update their security technologies.

Last month, a pair of bombs placed on two regional trains failed to detonate, in the first real terrorist attack attempt on German soil.

The BBI, in planning for the past 15 years, will be completed by November 2011, city officials say. It will then on a wide basis use biometrics technologies, Schwarz said. Frequent flyer passengers could be identified with the help of an iris scan, and current security gimmicks, such as the metal detector gates, would be a thing of the past at the BBI.

"I am imagining that people enter a room in which they are screened electronically," said Schwarz, who in the past headed the airport in Dusseldorf.

He also added that most people will check in and print their boarding cards with the help of the computer at home, and that some 200 electronic check-in terminals will be installed in the airport.

BBI, which is to be built on the current Schoenefeld location, is going to render obsolete the other two airports, which will be closed. The new airport is designed to serve from 20 to 25 million passengers.

While security precautions in the BBI will be extensive, much criticism has been leveled by officials from discount airlines, who say the project is financially out-of-date and would become a money-wasting machine.

"There's a billion-dollar grave being dug here that won't do justice to us and to other low-cost carriers," John Kohlsaat, the Germany head of British discount airline Easyjet told news magazine Der Spiegel.

He added that the planning of the BBI, which started in the early 1990s, focused on traditional carriers and did not take into account the needs of a budget airline. The project is expected to cost nearly $3 billion.

The criticism comes just days before construction is due to start Sept. 5.

Kohlsaat said the BBI was much too large, dimensions that would result in higher prices and fees. Passengers would also have to walk four times longer distances to reach their intended gate from the check-in area than in the current Easyjet hub in Schoenefeld.

"If the airport is built in its current form, then it will be far less attractive for us than Schoenefeld," he said.

Irish competitor Ryanair agrees.

"We don't need the massive marble palace," a Ryanair spokeswoman told the Sunday edition of the Berlin-based daily BZ, adding that "Berlin already has three lovely airports."

BBI planners are used to the adverse winds. The project has been bogged down for the past 15 years, after residents and environmental organizations have tried to stop the airport. A court order this year gave construction a green light and brushed away final legal doubts.

City officials believe the airport is vital for Berlin's and the region's economic future. BBI is to offer direct connections to all major international airports; today, the city's three airports often are reachable only through layovers in Frankfurt or other European airports in the vicinity.

Air Berlin and Germanwings, two German low-cost airlines, support the BBI.

Klaus Wowereit, Berlin's mayor, has reacted to the criticism, promising to enter a dialogue with the foreign budget carriers.

"Of course we will talk individually to every airline and adapt the planning," he said, adding, however, that the airport will be built.

"We can't build the BBI exclusively after the interests of a company."

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