In early June next year, Berlin’s long-awaited international airport, the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt, opens a shiny new facility with a starting capacity of 27 million passengers (expandable to 45 million).
So it makes sense that this year, the 17th international World Routes Development Forum and Routes Strategy Summit – a dual event that connects the people behind air transport, such as airport owners and route developers – would take place in the German capital’s fairgrounds.
From 2 to 4 October, airport owners, airline executives, tourism representatives and delegates from organisations including the Airports Council International descended on the city. Meetings weren’t limited to flashy corporate booths, but also took place as one-on-one discussions in special meeting areas to negotiate routes deals. The latter were a bit like speed-dating setups – short and sweet, at about 20 minutes long, and pre-organised to make maximum use of time.
Things were more long-lasting, however, at the Summit, hosted by ICAO, The World Bank, UBM Aviation and Berlin Airports. Experts discussed transport issues in a series of presentations and panels that often turned into heated discussions involving the audience. Topics included the impact of tourism and airport infrastructure on regional economies, airport security, transport taxes, and how fluctuating fuel prices will affect the aircraft industry (or, as Swedish oil expert Kjell Aleklett put it, how the air-transport industry could take control of the situation and become a pioneer in using alternative fuels).
It was the first time World Routes took place in Germany and more than 2,700 visitors attended. Though most were industry insiders, the Forum was reminiscent of a miniature ITB (International Tourismus Börse), Europe’s largest travel trade fair held each spring in the same venue.
There was certainly a lot of chest thumping from international airport authorities: Frankfurt’s huge hub is set to expand; a new terminal opens next spring in Chengdu; and Urumqi’s new terminal, open since last year, is apparently a major success. But local bodies were also taking advantage of the exposure. Berlin Partner, a group that assists investors in the capital, had a small information stand. “We’re here supporting the airport, which we really need. It can only be good for the city’s business,” said senior manager Julian Ramirez.
Considering that Berlin’s spotty travel connections have long affected not only tourism but the economy (it’s said that Sony execs once stopped coming to Berlin because there was no direct flight from Tokyo), establishing routes to and from the new airport, which will at last carry the IATA code BER, is more important than ever. At the opening reception, Rainer Schwarz, CEO of Berlin Airports, claimed that Berlin Brandenburg International “will change the current airport system completely”.
I’ll miss Berlin-Tegel – it’s small, manageable, and best of all it’s near my flat – but after years of doing the easyJet thing from Berlin-Schoenefeld, the makeshift low-cost carrier airport that BBI is replacing, I certainly hope he’s right.