German Court OKs Closing Berlin's Tempelhof Airport

BERLIN_A German court threw out a bid Monday to prevent the closure of the capital's historic Tempelhof airport, clearing the way for the one-time base of the Berlin airlift to close to passengers next year.

Thirteen companies that use the inner-city airport have sought to block its closure as part of plans to build a new hub on the edge of the capital.

However, the Berlin-Brandenburg administrative court rejected their complaints, arguing that acceptable alternatives were available and the companies' rights were not infringed upon.

During lengthy legal proceedings, the city government already has agreed to give the loss-making Tempelhof a one-year reprieve. It is now scheduled to shut on Oct. 31, 2008.

Mayor Klaus Wowereit said the ruling "gives everyone clarity and is a fair balance of interests." Berlin's airport operator, which said Tempelhof has incurred losses of €115 million (US$150 million) over the past decade, expressed relief.

Still, one of the companies seeking to keep the airport open said they would try to challenge Monday's ruling. "The verdict is short-sighted and will damage Berlin in the long term," said Thomas Stillmann, the manager of Windrose Air.

Tempelhof opened in 1923 and was expanded under the Nazis into a huge horseshoe-shaped complex. Its massive terminal is one of the most prominent remaining examples of the era's architecture in Berlin.

After World War II left the city divided into east and west, Tempelhof became the hub of the nearly yearlong U.S.-led Berlin airlift when the Soviets blockaded West Berlin in 1948.

Tempelhof - the closest of the city's three international airports to downtown Berlin - is now used only for short-hop flights with small aircraft.

While it is too small for many modern jets, its backers value its convenient location. They will now have to move operations to former East Berlin's Schoenefeld airport, just outside the city, or to the busy Tegel airport in the former west.

Schoenefeld will be expanded into the capital's new hub, Berlin-Brandenburg International, by 2011. Both Tempelhof and Tegel are slated to close.

The future of the Tempelhof site remains unclear. Last year, there was a proposal from a German-U.S. investment group under former Estee Lauder chief executive Fred Langhammer that would see the site turned into medical center with a small, private airport.

Germany's BUND environment group on Monday suggested turning the grounds into a huge "Airlift Park."