Auf Wiedersehen Tegel, The Airport That Wouldn’t Die Quietly

Storied Aerodrome Served as Pan Am’s Base

Berlin-Tegel Otto Lilienthal Airport, two years ago

By Kurt Stolz on 7 November 2020
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Tegel. Just saying the name conjures up an overcrowded and congested airport experience that is Germany’s fourth busiest.  That is, until now.

Amidst the opening of Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brand on October 31, Berlin Tegel Otto Lilienthal will say “Auf Wiedersehen” to its last flight on November 8.

Regular flights ended November 7, but Air France will operate the final flight from the historic airport on November 8, 60 years after the French flag carrier became the first commercial airline at what had become the Berlin base of the French air force after the Berlin blockade ended in 1948.

Departures board at Berlin Tegel Airport

Because Tempelhof’s runways were too short for some commercial aircraft of the day, Tegel, with a 2,500’ (762 m) runway that was built by French authorities in charge of the sector.  It was the longest runway in Europe at the time.

On January 2, 1960, an Air France Lockheed Constellation landed at Tegel after a stopover in Berlin, launching commercial service at the airport.  In 1961, Air France began Sud Aviation Caravelle service to the airport.  Sud Aviation was a French state-owned aircraft manufacturer based in Toulouse that operated until 1970.  In 1980, Air France celebrated the five millionth passenger to travel on its service to and from Tegel.

In 1988, the new airline EuroBerlin-France, a joint venture between Air France, which held 51%, and Deutsche Lufthansa, which owned 49%, operated its first flight in what was then West Berlin’s busiest airport.

“The long and eventful history of flight operations at Tegel is more closely linked to Air France than hardly any other airline,” said Prof. Dr.-Ing. Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, Vorsitzender or chairman of the Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg board.

“It is hard to imagine a more appropriate farewell from this airport than on an Air France flight,” Daldrup said.

During the Cold War, the Allies didn’t allow German airports to operate from Tegel.  Pan Am followed Air France into Tegel in May 1964, with a year-round, thrice-weekly non-top service to New York’s Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport). The World’s Most Experienced Airline operated the Berlin flights with a mix of Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Pan Am, which had approximately 70% market share of all flights in and out of Berlin, had a base there until selling its Berlin operations to Lufthansa in 1990 for $150 million. Over the years, the airline operated a fleet that included ATR-42 Turboprops, Boeing 727-200s, Airbus A310s, and Airbus A300s.

Still, few will mourn the Tegel passenger experience:  It somehow managed to maintain its Soviet-era charm (despite being in the West) well into the 21st century, even though the Berlin Wall came down in 1991.

Meanwhile, Tegel’s most prominent operator, Air France, will operate the first flight out of the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport.  Flight AF1434, an Airbus A319, will take off from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport at 7:30 a.m. local time with a scheduled arrival time at the new airport at 9:10 a.m.

But the name Tegel will live on at BER.  In a nod to both Tempelhof, Germany’s most famous airport, which had opened to flights in 1927 and closed in 2008, and Tegel, the new airport’s two lounges will be named Lounge Tempelhof and Lounge Tegel.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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