Germany's capital will have a major international air hub, after a federal court cleared the way Thursday for plans to expand the former East Berlin airport following nearly a decade of resistance from citizens.
Work to transform Schoenefeld airport into the new, state-of-the-art Berlin-Brandenburg International is to begin this summer, after the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig gave the project the go-ahead.
Officials welcomed the ruling, saying the project, which has been hamstrung by protests and lawsuits, would give the capital and its surrounding region a badly needed economic boost. The new airport is expected to open in the fall of 2011 and create roughly 40,000 jobs.
"This is the most important decision for Berlin since parliament voted to move the capital there," said Eric Schweitzer, the president of Berlin's Chamber of Commerce.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said the airport would be a boon for the capital.
"Now the path is clear for a modern, competitive international airport in Berlin," she said in a statement. "The new BBI is of great significance for the economic development of the Berlin-Brandenburg region and for the federal capital."
Although the court said it saw no legal reason why the euro2.5 billion (US$3 billion) project to develop the former East Berlin airport should not proceed, it placed restrictions on night flights, including prohibiting landings after 10 p.m., and noise pollution. It also required developers to adequately compensate affected residents.
Germany's second-largest carrier, Air Berlin, which currently has some flights in an out of Schoenefeld, criticized the night flight restrictions for seriously limiting business travel and freight flights, which normally arrive after passenger hours.
"If you can't land between 10 p.m. and midnight, then it's not possible to attract business travelers," Air Berlin chief Joachim Hunold said.
Pending completion of the new airport, West Berlin's more centrally located Tegel and Tempelhof airports are to remain open.
Some 4,000 residents of Berlin and its surrounding state of Brandenburg, where Schoenefeld airport is located, had filed a series of legal suits in an attempt to block the expansion, which they maintain will cause environmental problems.
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