Flight paths at delayed Berlin airport draw EU ire

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Berlin’s much-delayed new airport suffered another setback on Thursday when the European Commission accused Germany of failing to heed EU wildlife protection law.

The European Union’s executive, which enforces environmental law, said Germany had failed to assess adequately the environmental impact of planned flight routes into and out of the new airport.

The Commission’s intervention adds to Germany’s embarrassment over the project, could further delay the airport’s opening and could eventually lead to a fine.

The flight paths in the airport’s final plans were different from those endorsed in an EU environmental impact assessment in 2004, a spokesman for EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik told a briefing.

The Commission has given Germany two months to give an explanation, with the threat of an infringement process that could end up in the European Court of Justice, the spokesman said.

Germany’s transport ministry said it would study the Commission’s reasoning and reply by the deadline. If Germany and the Commission fail to agree, Germany could be taken to the European Court of Justice and fined, although most cases do not go that far.

Construction of the Willy Brandt International Airport started in 2006 after 20 years of planning. The 4.3 billion euro ($5.6 billion) project was originally scheduled to open in 2011, but has been postponed repeatedly, mainly because of problems with the fire safety system.

The airport’s management team has promised to give an update on planning in the autumn. Britain’s Easyjet, due to be one of the airport’s main customers, said this week it had recommended that the airport be opened in stages.

(Reporting by Ilona Wissenbach, Markus Wacket, additional reporting by Victoria Bryan- Writing by Philip Blenkinsop- Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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