BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin residents voted on Sunday to keep open the German capital's Tegel airport even after a new international hub is completed, a preliminary result showed, creating a headache for the city's government, which had campaigned for its closure.
Some 55 percent of voters supported the non-binding referendum to re-consider plans to close Tegel and nearly 43 percent were opposed, the state election supervisor said after about two-fifths of votes had been counted.
Under current plans, Tegel will close six months after the opening of Berlin Brandenburg International (BER) airport - a grand project that has faced repeated construction and planning problems and still has no fixed opening date.
The referendum, which was held on the same day as Germany's federal election, divided Berliners.
Opponents argued Tegel, with its concrete, hexagonal terminal that dates back to the 1970s, is antiquated, does not meet current safety standards and must be renovated at a cost of at least 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion).
They want the state government to go ahead with plans to convert the site into a new business and technology park to boost Berlin's economy, and build affordable flats to help alleviate a housing shortage.
Supporters, however, say that even when complete the new airport will be too small to meet passenger demand and want Tegel retained to serve around 10 million passengers per year, mainly on short-haul flights.
Although the vote was non-binding, Berlin's government will now be forced to review its plans to close Tegel or face accusations that it is going against the will of the people.
Tegel rose in just 90 days in 1948 to support the Berlin Airlift, a huge operation to ship supplies and thwart a Soviet blockade of West Berlin. Despite the squat shape, the airport remains much-loved by many Berliners and business travellers for its proximity to the city center.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley, editing by Latrry King)