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BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin looks set to postpone the opening of its long-delayed new airport for a third time, shareholders in the project told Reuters on Tuesday, dealing another blow to a flagship project that has embarrassed the German capital.
Nearly a quarter of a century after the Berlin Wall came down and 13 years after the government moved back to Berlin as the unified capital, Germany is still struggling to open an international airport to replace two from its Cold War past.
Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, which will also be known as Willy Brandt Airport after West Germany's Cold War chancellor, has already been put back twice to March 17, 2013 from an original deadline in October, 2011.
"The March opening date is very unlikely to be kept," a source with one of the company's three shareholders said, asking to remain anonymous. A representative of a second shareholder, also speaking on condition of anonymity, also said there was likely to be another delay.
Berlin's Tagesspiegel local newspaper and industry figures have speculated that another delay was in the offing, although the sources said the project's supervisory board was unlikely officially to declare a new date at a meeting on Thursday.
"Horst Amman, managing director, is currently examining the planned opening date," the airport said in a statement on Tuesday in response to press reports. "Any changes will be communicated in a timely fashion."
A further delay would be bad news for Germany's second biggest airline, Air Berlin (AB1.DE), which is struggling to make a profit and plans to use the new airport to expand into more lucrative intercontinental flights.
The airline blamed a drop in June passenger numbers on being forced to relocate its flight schedules back to the existing Tegel airport at short notice and has said it may seek compensation once it is clearer how much the debacle will cost.
There have also been reports that the airport itself, which will replace the Tegel and Schoenefeld facilities built during the Cold War, is running out of cash.
A person familiar with the talks said the supervisory board was likely to agree on temporary financing when it meets on Thursday, with banks putting around 430 million euros at its disposal. That would keep the company going well into next year.
Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) and UK-based easyjet (EZJ.L) are also due to run out of the new airport. Its shareholders include the German federal government and the regional governments of Berlin and Brandenburg.
The opening was first pushed back two years ago - to June 3, 2012 - after delays linked to the fitting of new scanning systems. Then with less than one month to go, that date was unexpectedly scrapped in May due to problems with fire safety systems.
Reporting by Markus Wacket and Victoria Bryan in Frankfurt; Writing by Michelle Martin; editing by Patrick Graham