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New Berlin airport opening 9 years late with little ceremony

Nine years late and far above its original budget, Berlin's new airport is finally opening Saturday with little ceremony and, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, few passengers.

Construction of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt, named after the former West German chancellor though better known as BER, started in 2006 and it was initially slated to open in October 2011. But a string of technical and planning problems forced officials to abandon six opening dates — most embarrassingly, in 2012, just four weeks before flights were supposed to start.

That propelled the project to the status of a national joke as airport managers struggled to get a grip on various problems, including a complex fire safety system that long caused headaches.

People walk in front of a sign of the new Berlin-Brandenburg-Airport 'Willy Brandt' in inside the Terminal 1, near Berlin in Schoenefeld, Germany, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. After years of delays and massive cost overruns the opening of the German capital's new airport is scheduled for Saturday Oct. 31.(AP PhotoMarkus Schreiber)

The airport has cost some 6 billion euros ($7 billion), about three times what was originally planned. It is finally opening at a time when air traffic has been hobbled by the pandemic. The opening of the new airport's Terminal 2 has been delayed until early next year because it isn't currently needed.

BER's opening spells the end of West Berlin's Cold War-era Tegel airport, the busier of the two aging and increasingly cramped airports that so far served the reunited German capital.

Saturday's first landings at the new airport will kick off a week-long transition, with the last flight from Tegel due to depart on Nov. 8. The former East Berlin's Schoenefeld airport, which is located across the runways from BER, is being incorporated into the new airport as its “Terminal 5.”

People walk through the Terminal 1 of the new Berlin-Brandenburg-Airport 'Willy Brandt' near Berlin in Schoenefeld, Germany, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. After years of delays and massive cost overruns the opening of the German capital's new airport is scheduled for Saturday Oct. 31.(AP PhotoMarkus Schreiber)

Tegel and Schoenefeld handled a total 35.6 million passengers last year, putting Berlin in third place in Germany behind the Frankfurt and Munich hubs.

Luetke Daldrup, CEO of the new Berlin-Brandenburg-Airport 'Willy Brandt' speaks to media at the visitor terrace of the airport's Terminal 1, near Berlin in Schoenefeld, Germany, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. After years of delays and massive cost overruns the opening of the German capital's new airport is scheduled for Saturday Oct. 31.(AP PhotoMarkus Schreiber)

People walk in front of a sign of the new Berlin-Brandenburg-Airport 'Willy Brandt' in inside the Terminal 1, near Berlin in Schoenefeld, Germany, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. After years of delays and massive cost overruns the opening of the German capital's new airport is scheduled for Saturday Oct. 31. (AP PhotoMarkus Schreiber)