(Corrects lead and second paragraph to remove reference to preliminary results to make clear results are final)
BERLIN, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Berlin residents voted on Sunday to keep open the German capital’s Tegel airport even after a new international hub is completed, creating a headache for the city’s government, which had campaigned for its closure.
Some 56 percent of voters supported the non-binding referendum to reconsider plans to close Tegel and nearly 42 percent were opposed, the state election supervisor said, after all the votes had been counted.
Current plans envisage the closure of Tegel six months after the opening of Berlin Brandenburg International (BER) airport - a grand project bedevilled by repeated construction and planning problems that still has no fixed opening date.
The referendum, held on the same day as Germany’s federal election, divided Berliners.
Opponents argue that Tegel, with its concrete, hexagonal terminal that dates back to the 1970s, is antiquated, does not meet current safety standards and must be renovated at a cost of at least 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion).
They want the state government to go ahead with plans to convert the site into a new business and technology park to boost Berlin’s economy, and build affordable flats to alleviate a housing shortage.
Supporters, however, say that even when complete the new airport will be too small to meet passenger demand and want Tegel retained to serve around 10 million passengers per year, mainly on short-haul flights.
Although the vote was non-binding, Berlin’s government will now be forced to review its plans to close Tegel or face accusations that it is going against the will of the people.
Tegel sprang up in just 90 days in 1948, to support the Berlin Airlift, a huge operation to ship supplies and thwart a Soviet blockade of West Berlin. Despite its squat shape, the airport remains much-loved by many Berliners and business travellers for its proximity to the city centre. ($1=0.8355 euros) (Reporting by Caroline Copley Editing by Larry King and Clarence Fernandez)