By Thomas A. Horne
In a situation reminiscent of Mayor Richard Daley’s closure of Chicago’s Meigs Field, the city government of Berlin has moved forward with plans to close Tempelhof, the city’s historic downtown airport. The airport could close as early as Oct. 31, 2008.
Tempelhof serves as a major business aviation airport and is minutes from the city center. Brussels Airlines, Cirrus Airlines, Intersky Airlines, and numerous air taxi firms also use Tempelhof. So does Tempelhof Aviators, an FBO specializing in flight training.
The Berlin government, under mayor Klaus Wowereit, has secured court approval to move forward with a plan to do away with Tempelhof and consolidate all airline operations at Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport. Berlin’s other airport, Tegel, is also slated for closure. Schönefeld, which is 13 miles from Berlin, would be enlarged under the plan, and renamed the Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport.
AOPA Germany and a coalition of Tempelhof supporters have mobilized to help reverse the court decision and save the airport. A referendum was conducted to petition for a reversal; 170,000 votes were needed, and 177,952 were recorded. Some of the most enthusiastic support comes from those living near the airport.
In June 2007, AOPA Germany organized a 180-airplane fly-in to Tempelhof to draw attention to the battle. Another such fly-in is scheduled for April 2008.
The next step in the legal process is a binding referendum to reverse the court decision.
Investors at one point offered to take over Tempelhof’s buildings and create a hospital and spa center, but the proposal was rejected. The buildings’ office space—the world’s second largest, after the Pentagon—would remain intact under the government plan, owing to its historical significance. But the runways and airfield itself would presumably be replaced by apartment and commercial buildings. Other plans call for either flooding the airport and turning it into a lake or making it into a park.
Built in 1923 and enlarged during the 1930s under the Hitler regime, Tempelhof is best known as the terminal that saved West Berlin from a Soviet blockade during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949. After the blockade, Tempelhof continued to serve as a U.S. Air Force base until 1993. The first flights of the airlift began on June 26, 1948, making this year its sixtieth anniversary.
Those wishing to express their opinions can contact the Mayor: Klaus Wowereit, Regierender Bürgermeister, Berliner Rathaus, 10871 Berlin, Germany.
February 7, 2008