FRANKFURT, April 4 More than 200,000 Berlin
residents have signed a petition to demand a referendum on
keeping the city's Tegel airport operating after the German
capital's new airport opens.
Tegel, a concrete hexagonal hub built in the 1970s, was
meant to close once a much-delayed new airport opened southeast
of Berlin. But critics say the new airport will be too small to
meet passenger demand even when it opens, possibly in 2018.
The petition, backed by the pro-business Free Democrat (FDP)
party and its campaign "Berlin Needs Tegel", has gathered about
30,000 more signatures than needed to secure a vote, Berlin
election official Petra Michaelis-Merzbach said on Tuesday.
A referendum is most likely when Germans go to the polls for
a national election on Sept. 24, unless the Berlin parliament
approves keeping Tegel open based on the petition alone.
Tegel, in the northwest, and Berlin's other airport,
Schoenefeld in the southeast, served 33 million passengers last
year. The capacity of the new Brandenberg Airport, whose opening
has been pushed back from January 2017, will be 27 million.
Schoenefeld may continue operating for a few years after the
Brandenberg airport opens.
Many Berliners appreciate Tegel, whose carriers include Air
Berlin and British Airways, because it is just
8 km (5 miles) from the city centre and a public transport
ticket to reach there costs only 2.70 euros ($2.87).
"Citizens of Berlin ... have recognised how important the
continued operation of Tegel airport is for our city," Sebastian
Czaja, secretary general of the FDP in Berlin, said in a
Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair, which flies from
Schoenefeld, wants Tegel to stay open as it expands in Berlin.
"Other European capitals such as London or Paris each have a
number of competing airports and capacity of 130 million and 110
million respectively, and Berlin will continue to be left
behind," Ryanair Chief Marketing Officer Kenny Jacobs said last
($1 = 0.9393 euros)
(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Additional reporting by Conor
Humphries; Editing by Edmund Blair)