FRANKFURT (Reuters) - More than 200,000 Berlin residents have signed a petition to demand a referendum on keeping the city's Tegel airport operating after the German capital's new airport opens.
Tegel, a concrete hexagonal hub built in the 1970s, was meant to close once a much-delayed new airport opened southeast of Berlin. But critics say the new airport will be too small to meet passenger demand even when it opens, possibly in 2018.
The petition, backed by the pro-business Free Democrat (FDP) party and its campaign "Berlin Needs Tegel", has gathered about 30,000 more signatures than needed to secure a vote, Berlin election official Petra Michaelis-Merzbach said on Tuesday.
A referendum is most likely when Germans go to the polls for a national election on Sept. 24, unless the Berlin parliament approves keeping Tegel open based on the petition alone.
Tegel, in the northwest, and Berlin's other airport, Schoenefeld in the southeast, served 33 million passengers last year. The capacity of the new Brandenberg Airport, whose opening has been pushed back from January 2017, will be 27 million.
Schoenefeld may continue operating for a few years after the Brandenberg airport opens.
Many Berliners appreciate Tegel, whose carriers include Air Berlin and British Airways, because it is just 8 km (5 miles) from the city center and a public transport ticket to reach there costs only 2.70 euros ($2.87).
"Citizens of Berlin ... have recognized how important the continued operation of Tegel airport is for our city," Sebastian Czaja, secretary general of the FDP in Berlin, said in a statement.
Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair, which flies from Schoenefeld, wants Tegel to stay open as it expands in Berlin.
"Other European capitals such as London or Paris each have a number of competing airports and capacity of 130 million and 110 million respectively, and Berlin will continue to be left behind," Ryanair Chief Marketing Officer Kenny Jacobs said last month.
(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Additional reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Edmund Blair)