updated 5/17/2012 9:10:11 AM ET 2012-05-17T13:10:11

The opening of Berlin's new $3.18-billion airport must be further delayed until spring of next year, the capital's mayor said Thursday, in a growing embarrassment for city officials.

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The airport's planned June 3 opening was canceled at the last minute last week over unresolved fire safety issues but officials then said it could likely be opened this August. But in an about-face, Mayor Klaus Wowereit said the airport's board has now set March 17, 2013, as the new opening date.

Planners and authorities had hoped the opening of the Willy Brandt Airport — named after the former West Berlin mayor and later chancellor — would mark another chapter in the reunification of the formerly divided city.

The project is meant to replace Berlin's two aging airports, Tegel and Schoenefeld, which belonged to West and East Germany respectively.

Officials said last week that all flights booked for the period after June 3 will take place, but passengers will have to travel to the old airports instead.

The airport's head of technical planning, Manfred Koertgen, was fired by the airport's board of directors over the delay, German news agency dapd reported.

It is a "dramatic and unpleasant situation" that has caused serious damage to the region's image, said Matthias Platzeck, the governor of Brandenburg state where the new airport will be located just southeast of Berlin. The new opening date has been agreed upon with major airlines, he told reporters.

The delay will likely lead to cost overruns and liability claims from airlines, but officials have so far declined to discuss figures. Two major carriers, Lufthansa and AirBerlin, have both already added new flights that were meant to be operated from the new airport.

The opening had first been delayed from late 2011 to June 2012.

Once it opens, the new airport will be able to handle 27 million passengers annually, making it Germany's third-largest hub after Frankfurt and Munich.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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