Paris airport collapse blamed on design

John Lichfield
Wednesday 16 February 2005 01:00

Detailed design weaknesses contributed to the collapse of a futuristic terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, in May last year, an official investigation has concluded.

Detailed design weaknesses contributed to the collapse of a futuristic terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, in May last year, an official investigation has concluded.

However, the report stopped short of pointing a finger of blame and refused to conclude there had been a "conceptual error" in the design of Terminal 2E, hailed as a masterpiece when it opened 11 months earlier.

The investigation identified four faults in design or construction that led to the partial collapse of the curving, concrete, glass and steel departure building, killing four people.

An investigating magistrate must now decide whether to recommend criminal proceedings for manslaughter against individuals involved in building or planning the terminal. The Paris airports authority will decide in April whether to demolish or repair the stricken building.

Terminal 2E was conceived by the award-winning French architect Paul Andreu, who is now working on a new opera house in Beijing. Earlier this week, M. Andreu's office put out a statement saying weaknesses in the metal reinforcing in the concrete were the principal cause of the building's collapse.

That was one of four contributory causes identified by the official report yesterday.

Jean Berthier, head of the investigation, told a press conference in Paris that the €750m (£515m) building had a "weak capacity" to resist stress and had weakened gradually in the 11 months after it was opened.

The immediate cause of the collapse was uncertain but may have been the unusually cold weather on 23 May.

M.Berthier's report listed four principal weaknesses: the metal reinforcing within the concrete was inadequate or badly positioned; stress could not transfer from one part of the structure to another; the main roof beam was weak and struts separating the outer glass and metal layer from an inner concrete layer were badly positioned.

It was not clear from the report who should be held responsible for these weaknesses in construction and design.

Just before 7am on 23 May a 30m by 20m section of the vaulted roof of the departure building - a curving, oval structure, supported by stilts - fell into the passenger lounge. The central section of the structure, known as the jétee or jetty, collapsed onto service vehicles parked below.

Four passengers, two Chinese, a Lebanese and a Czech, were killed and three people were injured. The collapse was a severe setback for the Paris Airports Authority and for the national flag-carrier Air France.

Terminal 2E was part of a projected new, four-terminal hub for Air France and its partner airlines, intended to lift Charles de Gaulle airport above Heathrow and Frankfurt as the premier airport in Europe.

The design of terminal 2E - supervised by the airports authority itself - was claimed as a showcase of ground-breaking, French engineering talent and panache.

Whether or not the collapsed terminal lounge is repaired, or torn down and rebuilt, terninal 2E will remain largely closed until 2007. M. Berthier said yesterday that it would be technically possible to repair the building. "Any building is saveable," he said. The real question would be one of expense, he said. "Would it be cheaper to tear down the whole of the departure building and start again?"

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments