Air Berlin has officially joined the Oneworld alliance, ahead of the opening of the new Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport in June.

Attended by Oneworld member CEOs including IAG’s Willie Walsh and BA’s Keith Williams, the inauguration ceremony took place in front of the forthcoming airport, which is located to the south of the current Berlin Schonefeld airport, and which will open for business on June 3.

It was the first media event to be held on the grounds of the new airport, named after the Nobel Peace Laureate and former German chancellor Willy Brandt.

Prof. Dr. Rainer Schwarz, CEO of Berlin Brandenburg Airport, said that the combination of Air Berlin’s inauguration into the Oneworld alliance, along with the opening of the new airport, would create Oneworld’s third largest hub in Europe. Air Berlin adds nearly 70 new airports to the Oneworld network, serving a total of 162 destinations in 40 countries.

The €2.5 billion Berlin Brandenburg facility will make use of Schonefeld’s existing runway, along with a new 4,000-metre southern runway capable of taking the A380 superjumbo. The map below shows Schonefeld airport located to the north, with the new Berlin Brandenburg airport to the south in blue, sandwiched between the two runways.

The first flights departing the airport on June 3 will be Air Berlin and Lufthansa services, with both aircraft taking off simultaneously from the parallel runways at 0530. The first inbound service will be an Easyjet flight, the low-cost carrier being the third largest airline operating into Berlin.

Both Berlin Schonefeld and Berlin Tegel airports will close on the evening of June 2, leaving just one airport operating in the city as of June 3 (Berlin Templehof airport having closed in 2008).

A huge logistical project will see around 600 trucks transporting equipment, machinery and systems overnight between the old and new airports, with the motorway connecting Berlin Brandenburg to the city centre being closed to traffic during the process.

A total of 10,000 volunteers have been testing the airport’s check-in, baggage handling and security systems since November 2011, with the aim of avoiding the sort of first day issues which have affected recent new terminal openings such as Heathrow T5. Indeed Ralf Kunkel, head of press office for the new airport said that T5’s chaotic opening was “the biggest and best trial run we could have had”.

Berlin Brandenburg (IATA code BER) has a capacity for up to 27 million passengers, with the possibility to expand up to 45 million passengers with further satellite terminals (shown as thin blue lines to the left of the main terminal on the map above) should demand increase.

Kunkel said that it was hoped the geographical position of Berlin (around one hour further east than most of Europe’s major hubs) would attract routes from Asia and the Middle East to the new hub. Air Berlin, now part-owned by Etihad Airways, launched services to Abu Dhabi in January (see online news January 16).

Both Willie Walsh, CEO of the BA/Iberia International Airlines Group, and Tom Horton, American Airlines’ chairman, president and CEO, and chairman of the Oneworld alliance, stressed that Etihad’s recent acquisition of shares in Air Berlin “changes nothing” in relation to the German carrier’s Oneworld membership.

Air Berlin will also launch new flights from the German capital to LA and Windhoek in May, while rival carrier Lufthansa will expand its operations when the new airport opens, with 32 new destinations and an increase in aircraft based at the airport.

Berlin Brandenburg’s One Roof concept will see all passengers using the same flat-roofed terminal building, with the South Pier dedicated to Air Berlin and Oneworld carriers, a central pier for Lufthansa, Star Alliance and other full service airlines, and a North Pier for low-cost carriers including Easyjet and Ryanair.

Facilities will include two lounges – an Air Berlin-branded facility for its customers and Oneworld member carriers, and a Lufthansa / Star Alliance lounge. Air Baltic had also been set to take up a lounge at the airport, but it is understood this will no longer be the case.

A six-track railway station directly under the terminal building will operate Airport Express, S-Bahn and ICE train services, and new and expanded road infrastructure will improve access to the city centre and beyond.

There will be a total of 30 security lanes when the airport opens in June, rising to 36 when new liquid-detection facilities (allowing liquids to once again be carried in hand luggage) are added in April 2013.

Aside from the 150 shops and restaurants within the airport itself, a new Airport City is also under construction in front of the terminal, with Steigenberger Hotels set to open a property on August 3, and further conference facilities, restaurants, bars and cafes also set to be added.

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Report by Mark Caswell

Aerial shot of the new Berlin Brandenburg airport taken in 2011