Voters will decide the fate of Germany´s Berlin´s Tempelhof airport in a referendum scheduled to start on 15 October a year before the downtown airport´s planned closure.
The German Business Aviation Association (GBAA) is spearheading a campaign, along with the European Business Aviation Association and the Association of German Regional Airports, to keep Tempelhof - scene of the 1948 Berlin Air Lift - open.
"We need 170,000 votes or more over the next four months to force a full public referendum," says GBAA president Dr Bernd Gans. He says a preliminary poll last year registered 30,000 votes in support of keeping the airport open - 10,000 more than was needed - and taking the battle to its current stage. "If we are successful this time round, there will be a full referendum where we are required to get at least 25% of eligible [registered] voters in Berlin to cast their ballot in support of keeping Tempelhof open," says Gans.
Tempelhof has been under the threat of closure for the past decade and government officials have been forcing operators to relocate to the new Berlin Brandenburg International airport being developed on the site of the existing Schoenefeld airport and scheduled to open in 2011. Tegel airport, in the west of the city and mainly used by airlines, is also scheduled to close six months after Brandenburg International opens.
Gans says: "Officials argue the cost of maintaining the airport is too high, but they simply haven´t thought it through. Tempelhof should be dedicated to aircraft under 50t and used solely by business aircraft and regional operators. It lies at the heart of the city, while Schonefeld is about 20km [12 miles] away."
Gans fears that business aircraft will play second fiddle to the airlines at Brandenburg, having to battle for slots and a decent infrastructure, such as dedicated hangars and VIP passenger and aircraft handling services, which are already established at Tempelhof.
Brandenburg "will not have enough capacity from day one", Gans says. "Tempelhof has around 200,000 movements a year, which could easily be increased to 1.5 million."