Airport disaster floors Air France hub ambitions

24th May 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 24 (AFP) - The fatal roof collapse at a state-of-the-art new terminal at Paris's main airport is a grievous blow to the plans of Air France to transform Roissy-Charles De Gaulle into the primary European air communications hub.

PARIS, May 24 (AFP) - The fatal roof collapse at a state-of-the-art new terminal at Paris's main airport is a grievous blow to the plans of Air France to transform Roissy-Charles De Gaulle into the primary European air communications hub.

Four people were killed Sunday morning and three injured when a 30 metre section of the departure area in the airport's recently-opened Terminal 2E inexplicably gave way, crashing to the ground below.

The terminal, which was inaugurated just 11 months ago and saw a through traffic of 20,000 passengers a day, was a key part of the development strategy drawn up by Air France with Aeroports de Paris (ADP) to overtake the airport's rivals at Frankfurt and London's Heathrow.

Its capacity was to be increased from six million passengers a year to ten million by 2007, and it was to be the first part of Charles De Gaulle to cater for the future giant Airbus 380 airliners.

In an air transport world increasingly built around a small number of huge international hubs, the terminal - with its sister 2F and a planned "satellite" dubbed S3 - was to be the central platform for Air France and its partners in the SkyTeam alliance of airlines.

But now the terminal has been closed for an indefinite period, and may even have to be demolished entirely if a technical investigation establishes that the disaster was caused by a design flaw.

"The catastrophe is not just an earthquake for the image of France. It is also an earthquake for ADP and Air France ... which could be deprived of the essential link which is its central hub - a key element for any air company today," said Le Monde newspaper.

Air France said that the immediate fall-out of the disaster should be limited, because it can re-route most of its flights to other terminals at Charles De Gaulle airport.

But the closure of the terminal cannot help but cloud the horizon for a company that recently became Europe's largest operator following its acquisition of the Dutch KLM, and which has ambitious plans to bring new partners into its SkyTeam alliance.

The disaster also has ramifications for ADP, a state-owned body which the centre-right government planned to privatise next year. ADP spent EUR 750 million (USD 896 million) on the terminal, and its demolition would be a financial catastrophe.

At both Air France and ADP, officials were Monday saying it was far too early to assess the long-term damage caused by the terminal's collapse.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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