Flight-Path Fiasco EU Challenges Problem-Prone Berlin Airport 

Berlin's controversial unfinished airport is under fire again. The European Commission has challenged Germany over its proposed flight paths, arguing that their environmental impact was not properly assessed. Germany has two months to respond.

The official opening of Berlin's new international airport has been delayed four times.

The official opening of Berlin's new international airport has been delayed four times.

The planning surrounding Berlin's controversial unfinished international airport has come under further criticism, with the European Commission directing a legal proceeding against Germany over the airport's proposed flight paths.

A spokesman for the Commission said in Brussels Thursday that the case involves compliance with European Union environmental laws. "We have received complaints," the spokesman said.

Germany has two months to give its position on questions posed by the Commission, and later can take the appropriate steps, if necessary. The "infringement proceeding" is a pre-litigation phase in which a member state of the EU, in this case Germany, can voluntarily conform with requirements of EU law, according to the Commission website.

The Commission has threatened to take action since January, when it sent a letter to German authorities, charging that the set flight paths "significantly" differed from those that were agreed upon in the planning permission process, thereby breaching two EU directives.

The Commission criticized the fact that no environmental impact assessments were made for the new flight paths, which would go over nature preserves and bird sanctuaries, and therefore could endanger rare bird species.

Failed Negotiations

The German Transport Ministry has since rejected the accusations, and has argued that all environmental standards were abided by in determining the flight paths. In recent months the Commission and the German government had been negotiating to stave off a legal proceeding.

If the Commission and the German government cannot come to an amicable agreement on the issue, the EU could bring the case before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which could then decide to impose fines on Germany.

Ralf Kunkel, spokesman for the airport told the news agency DPA that the EU decision had "no influence on the completion of the airport."

The long-awaited Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport (BER) has become an international embarrassment for the city, with its opening delayed four times due to numerous problems with the planning and the fire safety system. A new opening date for the airport -- which was meant to consolidate air travel by replacing the city's two currently operating airports -- has not been determined. Recent press reports indicated that the low-cost airline EasyJet might start operating there this fall.

The flight paths from the airport, which sits southeast of the German capital in the state of Brandenburg, have sparked controversy and citizens' protests. Residents of several southern suburbs have claimed that they were misinformed about the flight paths after decisions were made to change them.

Earlier this year, the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg prohibited planned flight paths over the Wannsee lake district in southwestern Berlin because a research facility with a nuclear reactor is located in the area, and the court deemed that an appropriate risk assessment had not been properly carried out.

-- mbw with wires.

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