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Air Berlin CEO blames delays to new airport for insolvency

FRANKFURT, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Air Berlin's chief executive blamed long delays in the opening of a new Berlin airport for the German airline's insolvency in an interview published by Germany's Die Zeit.

"Air Berlin is also a victim of the constant postponements of the new airport," the weekly newspaper on Wednesday quoted Thomas Winkelmann as saying.

Winkelmann's comments came a day after Air Berlin, Germany's second-largest airline, filed for bankruptcy protection after key shareholder Etihad Airways withdrew funding following years of losses.

The German capital's new airport was meant to open in 2011, replacing Air Berlin's home airport Tegel and Schoenefeld.

"We have Berlin in our name, are the prime carrier here and have designed our whole concept based on transfer traffic at this new airport. That is not possible at Tegel, my predecessors made that painful experience," he added.

Several opening dates for the planned new airport have been postponed as the project faced red tape and technical problems with smoke ventilation systems, cabling and doors.

Winkelmann told Die Zeit that he believed he could save most of the Air Berlin jobs through a restructuring.

The German government has granted a bridging loan of 150 million euros ($176 million) to allow Air Berlin to keep its planes in the air for three months and secure the jobs of its 7,200 workers in Germany while negotiations continue. ($1 = 0.8545 euros) (Reporting by Maria Sheahan; editing by Alexander Smith)