The Berlin Brandenburg Airport Project

The Berlin Brandenburg Airport Project

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Background of the Organization and Project

After the 1991 German reunification, Berlin’s new airport master plan was relatively plain and straightforward. The airport was supposed to serve almost twenty-two million passengers per annum, with a peak capacity of around six thousand passengers per hour. The cost of completing the project was not supposed to exceed one billion euros. The initial opening was scheduled at the turn of the new millennium. None of these goals were achieved. A long row of mostly unfiltered change requests contributed to frequent delays regarding the actual opening dates. There were significant cost overruns, which eventually led to a full rebuild of the airport’s main terminal. Air traffic demand has significantly increased since 2012, with the increase still being witnessed. This is because Berlin is still an attractive destination for tourists and business travelers.

What was expected to become the busiest German airport had ended up becoming a disastrous tale of how infrastructural and construction projects could quickly fail. It was projected that forty-five million passengers would use the airport on an annual basis, and it was supposed to replace the Tegel and Schoenefeld airports within Berlin. The key shareholders of the Federal Republic, Brandenburg, and Berlin agreed to establish the airport in 1996. It was proposed immediately after the German unification of 1990. Schoenefeld was selected as the best location for the project because of its closeness to Berlin and the availability of 3600 acres of free land. After pre-planning and the initial feasibility, which took almost fifteen years, the project’s construction began in 2006. It was proposed that the airport would take half a decade to construct, with 30th October 2011 being the target opening date, but the project was yet to open almost seven years later. The second opening date was pushed further to October 2020. It was initially supposed to be an airport that will be operated and owned by a private investor. This was, however, changed to public sector partners or BBF. This served as the first indicator for the team tasked with managing the project to identify and rectify whatever was wrong during the pre-planning phase of the airport construction.

Discussion of standard Criteria

Standard criteria for evaluating the success or failure of a project include whether or not the project was within budget, deadlines, and sustainability (Atkinson, 1999). For a project to be deemed a success, it should be completed within budget, the set deadline, and be sustainable in the long run (Thomsett, 2002). A failed project would experience budgetary overshoots, delay its completion and not be sustainable.

Critical Identification and Justification of the criteria

I believe that the criteria that would be deemed appropriate to evaluate this project are whether it was within its initial budget and was delivered on time. The justification for these criteria is because they are easily measurable and would adversely affect most of the stakeholders of the project (Duncan, 2004).

Critical Analysis

The project did not attain the discussed criteria due to various factors that were avoidable. The outcome of the airport was a disaster economically, including the significant damage that it caused to Germany’s reputation as a country that is renowned for having industrious and efficient people. A critical analysis of the events from a hindsight point of view highlights some of the factors that did the project not be completed within budget and within the set deadline. One of these factors includes the issue that there were very many and diverse interested stakeholders. In a project this large, the involvement of numerous stakeholders and their diverse interests is significant (Cleland and Ireland, 2010. Difficulties arose during the project’s initial years when there were queries regarding who owned the project. It was initially decided that the airport would be privately owned and operated. After a twelve-year period of planning, this idea was shelved, and it was instead decided that the airport would state-owned. It was supposed to be operated by the Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg (FBB). The German Federal Government, Brandenburg State, the airlines, the city mayor, the workers, the passengers, the citizens of Berlin, and the other older airports within the city were also interested stakeholders. The more the number of stakeholders, the more complex the project and the more effort required in change management and communication matters (Coronado and Antony, 2002). On top of this, in most critical projects, there is usually at least one stakeholder that would be glad that a project did not succeed. It could be assumed that some of the main stakeholders at the city’s Schoenfeld and Tegen airports did not mind the endemic delays or did not pay critical attention as to why such delays were taking place.

The scope of the project was also subjected to numerous major changes. Project scope refers to the part of a project’s planning that involves documenting and determining an outline of critical project deliverables, goals, functions, features, deadlines, tasks, and ultimately goals (Mir and Pinnington, 2014). The most challenging phase is to successfully deliver the project based on the initial plan whenever there are several changes in scope. Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport is a perfect example of scope creep or numerous scope changes. One case occurred when as the construction was taking place, one of the critical stakeholders, the airport management company’s general manager, requested the architects to add southern and northern piers to the primary terminal. This turned it from a rectangular shape to a U shape and significantly enlarged the floor space area. During a later phase of the project, the general manager, with the aim of making the airport to be similar to the Dubai luxury mall, requested to incorporate into the initial plan another level that would be filled with food courts, boutiques, and shops. These frequent and significant alterations in the project’s scope ended up delaying and increasing the costs over and above the initially projected figures.

The project was plagued with incompetence and incapable management. Top directors and their supervisors failed to formulate plans that reflected appropriate assumptions touching on uncertain issues about the airport’s commercial model. The initial estimations on the airport’s projected passenger demand were significantly inaccurate and low. Initially, the airport planned to handle twenty-two million passengers per year. Presently, the two other airports in the city are serving passenger volumes of 27 million per annum. Even before the project’s groundbreaking, it had become obvious that the new airport would not have the capacity to fulfill the expected demand. However, the project had already passed the point of no return since the master plan had already been approved. The fact that it was a publicly-funded project meant that the master plan could not be altered at this juncture. Any radical plan changes touching on critical design elements would be considered a failure by the public. In the German political arena, face-saving was at the time valued more than financial and economic survival.

The floor plans only allowed for relatively short passenger walkways and a single-level layout. This was to ensure there was ground-level space for the installation of technical equipment and luggage handling. Most of the modern airport business models concentrate on boutiques, shop revenues, eateries, etc. These business models call for shopping mall layouts. Separation of departures from arrivals is commonly attained by employing double-level passenger logistics. Airflow systems, luggage systems, etc. should be located on the rooftops or at the underground section. In a short-sighted and poorly informed attempt to minimize costs, only two main floor levels had been planned. The new modern and dynamic Airbus 380 aircraft was introduced within the airline industry. Catering for the needs of such an airplane had been regarded as a clear priority right from the initial announcement.

Engineering firms that had been tasked with designing and constructing the project’s large and futuristic integrated fire protection and air ventilation system conspired with technical design offices and architects contracted to plan and run the facilities at the airport. The firms convinced one another that any kind of unresolved queries touching on the complexities of the airflow control interactions with disposal of smoke could be deal with ‘on the fly’ during equipment installation. On top of that, architects and airport designers colluded with the project’s passenger logistics planners. Eventually, potential shop owners and airport management convinced one another of the overall airport layout’s scalability. They assumed that the original plans could be altered at minimal costs in case of an expansion in demand and passenger traffic.

Communication is also one of the most critical tasks whenever a project is being done. Communication also entails sharing the correct information to the intended people through the right channels on the project’s status (Davis, 2014). The mayor of the city at the time, Klaus Wowereit, who also doubled up as the project’s sponsor and the supervisory board’s chairman, was accused of pretending that there were no issues during the airport’s construction. He maintained this stance even as the situation worsened. This lack of acknowledgment of the dire situation provided the impression that there was no reason to act. The mayor was removed from the post in 2013. Project leaders should not be afraid of addressing and communicating information about any bad news to the project’s stakeholders.

There were also ineffective quality tests. Quality inspections and tests unearthed two critical issues. First of all, the airport terminal’s alarm and fire protection systems were not constructed according to the construction permit or the required building codes. The other issue is that the smoke extractor fans that were supposed to be used were not effective. There are extensive reconstructions that have been planned to correct this situation. Quality checks are usually planned throughout a project to evaluate and make sure that the final project meets all the deliverables. The airport project eventually encountered numerous quality issues. This is surprising, bearing the fact that Germany is a country that has a reputation of focusing on high-quality standards and reputations. Official reports state that there were over 66,000 defects, with 34,000 of these defects being described as significant and over five thousand of the defects classified as critical.

Suggestions and Recommendations

Based on the report and information discussed pertaining to the project’s failure, this section outlines some of the actionable recommendations and suggestions to be incorporated in future similar projects. During the initial phases of layout structuring and design, it is important to consider both optimistic and pessimistic consequences and develop the plans accordingly. There should be a plan for comprehensive and early identification of critical issues that need to be dealt with. Effective management decisions should be made under a veil of uncertainty and effective execution of crucial decisions.

The project managers should consider the worst-case scenarios as the most likely to occur. Misled project managers tend to believe that the worst-case scenarios are the exceptions and not the rule. When conducting a risk assessment, it is crucial to consider all the likely risks and come up with the action items for every item when such risks trigger. When formulating scenarios and seeking the worst case, project analysts habit of limiting their scope to ‘much better than expected’ and ‘bad.’ The engineers should ensure an acceptable level of functionality. This could be attained by completely separating automated passenger emergency control, air conditioning systems, smoke disposals, and fire extinguishing equipment both in their operational control and physically. Integration of such systems often comes with substantial costs and complexities. Generally, it is important to look for the significant benefits linked with the investment costs instead of looking at the project’s total costs.


No large engineering construction project has ever been completed without significant issues, and the Berlin airport is no different in this aspect. However, what is different is how it went wrong. The project’s decision-making was mostly inconsistent and unclear, with wild budget fluctuations, inept consultancy, and design teams, and internal struggles linked to the different stakeholders’ interests. The only certainty of the project is that it has large expectations to live up to, and only time will prove whether the airport project’s fortunes could be reversed.

List of References

Atkinson, R., 1999. Project management: cost, time and quality, two best guesses and a

Phenomenon, it’s time to accept other success criteria. International journal of project

Management, 17(6), pp.337-342.

Cleland, D.I. and Ireland, L.R., 2010. Project manager’s portable handbook. McGraw-Hill


Coronado, R.B. and Antony, J., 2002. Critical success factors for the successful implementation

of six sigma projects in organisations. The TQM magazine.

Davis, K., 2014. Different stakeholder groups and their perceptions of project

success. International journal of project management, 32(2), pp.189-201.

Duncan, W.R., 2004. Defining and measuring project success. Accessed on 15th April, 2014 from http://www. pmpartners. com/resources/defmeas_success. html.

Mir, F.A. and Pinnington, A.H., 2014. Exploring the value of project management: linking

project management performance and project success. International journal of project

management, 32(2), pp.202-217.

Thomsett, R., 2002. Radical project management. Prentice Hall Professional.

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