Latest airport delay heaps pressure on Etihad-backed airberlin

Source says much-delayed Berlin airport is unlikely to open until at least 2014

The opening of Berlin's much delayed new US$3bn airport will not happen until at least 2014, a source told Reuters, heaping more pressure on the newly appointed CEO of airberlin, the loss-making German low-cost carrier part-owned by Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways.

The Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport, which is being built at a cost of €2.5bn (US$3.2bn), has been re-scheduled to October 2013, after already being postponed several times already over the past year due to various problems, including its fire safety systems.

The government-backed airport was to replace Berlin’s three existing airports and was to be the main hub for airberlin.

The delayed opening has heaped further costs on the loss-making carrier, which in September saw its losses for the first three months of 2012 widen to €66.2m (US$81.8m), compared with a year-earlier loss of €43.9m.

Jürgen Pieper, an analyst at private bank Metzler, estimated the delays were costing airberlin around $6m a month, the Spiegel German news agency reported.

"There will be no opening this year," the source told Reuters, confirming reports in German media. The source said no new opening date had been scheduled yet.

Former interim CEO Hartmut Mehdorn, who was succeeded on Monday by permanent CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, told Arabian Business in a September interview the carrier was in talks with airport officials and was considering its options.

“We are in talks with the Berlin Brandenburg Airport. We think they have to reimburse… if they don’t do this we go to court.”

Despite the carrier’s equity plummeting by about two-thirds to €101.3m by the end of June 2012 and its losses rising, Mehdorn was still confident the carrier would return to the black by the end of 2013.

“We are still saying [that] in the year 2013 we will be back to profit and then we will have to see how we develop in the future,” he said.

Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad Airways bought a 29 percent stake in the German carrier in December 2011 and regardless of these challenges, Etihad said last month it had already recouped its initial $105m investment in the carrier.

The partners also said that the year-old alliance has also delivered more than 300,000 passengers onto each other's networks.

The companies added they have also begun implementing a detailed procurement strategy to bring multi-million dollar savings for both airlines.

Airberlin and Etihad Airways announced in the year that the airlines would integrate their Boeing 787 Dreamliner programmes.

The move, which involves 56 aircraft, will save millions of dollars for both carriers which together represent the largest single order for the Boeing 787.

* With Reuters

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