President of Interessengemeinschaft City Airport Tempelhof e.V. (ICAT), a citizens´ initiative to preserve the historic Tempelhof Airport
FLUG REVUE: With 200,000 signatures of Berlin citizens entitled to vote, you have set in motion a referendum on the future of Tempelhof Airport. But to win it in the spring, you will need 600,000 votes. What are the prospects of success?
Bernhard Liscutin: You are right, we need the votes of 25% of the voters, about 600,000 people. That will not be easy to accomplish. But a substantial number of Berlin citizens want to oppose the city government out of a general disaffection with its policies. That will help us. The sooner the referendum takes place, the better our chance of winning.
FR: At the end of 2008 people will be thinking about the 60th anniversary of the airlift of the winter of 1948/49, in which Tempelhof Airport played a critical role. Can you find enough old “airlift Berliners” to support your cause?
Liscutin: The airlift and emotional considerations are only of secondary importance to us. We have to concentrate on the value of Tempelhof today and tomorrow as a transport infrastructure. The Berliners who lived through the Soviet blockade of 1948/49 are now 60, 70, 80 years old and in a minority. Besides, we shouldn´t forget that we have the support of half those entitled to vote from the former East Berlin. Those people have a different emotional view of Tempelhof.
FR: In the latest public opinion poll, you had the support of one-fifth of the voters from the districts close to the airport. How do you explain the fact that the airport´s neighbours are so well disposed to it?
Liscutin: It is an astonishing phenomenon – the local residents want the airport to stay. Not because of its historical importance, but for economic development. We organised a survey on this back in 1996, and I think the figures have remained the same.
FR: When you first started collecting signatures for the referendum, there was a lot of fuss about voting irregularities. Many people are even demanding that there should be OSCE election observers. Is everything proceeding on a proper basis?
Liscutin: Most of the problems occurred during the first two weeks after the election office opened on 15 October 2007. We received perhaps a handful of complaints. We informed the State Election Commissioner, who sorted it out immediately. It wasn´t our idea that the OSCE should be involved. The cooperation with the Citizens Registration Offices has worked extremely well. We have absolute confidence in Berlin´s Senator of the Interior and the State Election Commissioner.
FR: Even if you were to win the referendum in favour of keeping Tempelhof open in the spring, the Berlin Senate would not be legally bound to reverse the plans for closure.
Liscutin: If we were to win the referendum with 600,000 votes, that would be more than the number of votes cast for Berlin´s SPD-The Left ruling coalition. They only got 580,000 votes. A win in the referendum must have political consequences. They don´t have to resign, they have to give way. That is all. All we are interested in is getting reason to prevail. Tempelhof should be kept fully functioning.
FR: What legal means do you have of preventing it from being closed? The Senate has already legally revoked its operating licence with effect from November.
Liscutin: The only legally binding thing so far is the administrative decision which revokes the operating licence for the airport operating company in Tempelhof. Up to the end of October, the Berlin Aviation Authority can still overturn this decision by mutual agreement. For example, if they should determine that air traffic is growing faster than expected. The other thing is the withdrawal of the grounds from public use pursuant to the resolution of June 2007. The ICAT has appealed against this on grounds of breach of the constitution. In May 2007, only four weeks before it tried to arrange a fait accompli, the Senate allowed our application to petition for a referendum. Before the planning permission can be lifted, we need to get the petition for the referendum through. Our appeal is having the effect of delaying things. In the meantime, Tempelhof airport stays open.
FR: What is your operating concept for Tempelhof in the future?
Liscutin: The airport´s runways are very short. As a result, we want to restrict its use to aircraft with a take-off weight of up to 50 tonnes and 100 seats, between six in the morning and 10 o´clock at night at the latest, with turboprops and small jets allowed as well. That will mean that it can be operated without any problems. 50 tonne aircraft are a lot quieter and are accepted by the residents. When it comes to the Tempelhof building, we believe it only makes business sense to dedicate it entirely to aviation purposes. For example, development, research, maintenance and training. Everything is structurally geared towards air transport. The site of the building could be operated highly profitably under such a concept.
FR: If Tempelhof is kept on, won´t that damage the idea of Berlin Brandenburg International (BBI) being Berlin´s “sole airport”?
Liscutin: 50-seat planes account for between 20 and 30 percent of flight movements but only 10 to 15 percent of the revenue. So one could take 20 percent of the flight movements away from BBI and use those slots more cost-effectively for larger aircraft.
FR: Would you like the Federal Government to show more commitment to Tempelhof?
Liscutin: The Federal Government has made efforts at different levels and has even offered to finance any losses Tempelhof might sustain in the interim until BBI opens. The Ministry of Finance has also supported the search for American investors for the building. Governing Mayor Wowereit has protested against this. A meeting about Tempelhof between Federal Chancellor Merkel and Wowereit in the Federal Chancellery on 13 December turned into quite an acrimonious affair. The Federal Government is simply sick of all this nonsense. In its heart it is in favour of Tempelhof.
FR: Does ICAT have a proposal for a diplomatic solution that that would give the politicians a face-saving way out of the impasse?
Liscutin: The problem is that we don´t know the real reasons why Klaus Wowereit is being so stubborn about it. Tempelhof is not a legal threat to BBI, that is legal nonsense. There is no legal reason for closing Tempelhof before BBI opens.