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Embarrassment in Berlin as airport opening is delayed again

By Frederik Pleitgen, CNN
January 8, 2013 -- Updated 1040 GMT (1840 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The opening of Willy Brandt International Airport in Berlin is delayed again
  • Berlin's mayor steps down as head of the project's supervisory board
  • The airport was originally due to open in June 2012, then October this year
  • The construction company cites problems with the fire extinguishing system

Berlin (CNN) -- The opening of Berlin's new international airport has been postponed again, officials said, in the latest of a series of setbacks that have led some in Germany to slam the project as a national embarrassment.

Willy Brandt International Airport, south of the German capital, was originally due to go into service in June 2012 but has been plagued with problems.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit stood down as head of the supervisory board overseeing the project on Monday, as he acknowledged the airport would still not be ready for its latest scheduled opening on October 27.

Wowereit declined to name a date for the beginning of flight operations.

BER, the company managing the construction, said in a statement: "Reasons for the renewed delays are problems with the fire extinguishing system, especially with regards to the fresh air vents in case of fire, but also the complexity of the entire construction situation."

The airport's original opening in June 2012 was canceled only days beforehand, when problems with the sprinkler systems came to light.

Speaking at a news conference in Berlin Monday, Wowereit said he would hand over his duties as head of the project's supervisory board to Matthias Platzeck, the governor of the state of Brandenburg.

The mayor has been heavily criticized for the delays, which various politicians and media outlets have called a "national disgrace."

The city of Berlin and the state of Brandenburg are the main parties involved in the construction of the airport, with the German federal government also footing part of the bill.

Regina Pop, head of the opposition Green Party in Berlin's City Parliament, said: "So far the mayor has only admitted things that became public anyway. That is not what transparency and crisis management need to look like.

"It remains unclear how the construction and restoration of the airport can be finished in a solid way."

Germany's largest daily newspaper, BILD, has called the situation surrounding Berlin's new signature airport a "disgrace for Germany," and quoted several international reports on the problems with the construction process.

Citing internal sources, the newspaper reports that the airport will not commence operations before 2014.

Officials have declined to confirm whether that is the case.

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