Report Cites Design and Structural Faults as Cause of Paris Airport Collapse

February 16, 2005

Both structural and design faults caused a large section of the newly constructed Terminal 2E at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport to collapse last May, killing 4 people and injuring 3.

An investigative commission under the direction of Jean Berthier, engineering Professor at France’s Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chausées, concluded that the building’s structure had been fragile from the outset. It then progressively degraded under use – principally from the side walkways – to the point where the structure gave way.

Berthier’s report pointed to four connected causes: 1) insufficient or badly positioned structural steel; 2) lack of mechanical “redundancy,” in that the stresses were concentrated and could not be shifted to other structural components; 3) concrete beams that offered too little resistance to stress and use, and 4) the positioning of metal supports within the structural concrete.

Payments will eventually be made by the various insurance companies who underwrote the structure, but the report doesn’t reach the question of who pays and how much. Although parts of the structure have been reopened, its use is still restricted. A distinct possibility remains that the entire building, which cost 750 million euros ($975 million), will have to be torn down if similar deficiencies are found throughout the entire structure.

As reported shortly after the collapse in Les Echos, the French financial daily newspaper, more than 400 firms were involved in the construction, and sorting out any direct links to the collapse will be a difficult process. Les Echos posited that, if a construction fault was found, it would fall under the construction insurance policy or PUC (police unique chantier). The policy covers events linked to any firm that participated in the construction for 10 years from completion.

It also assures rapid payment to the owner of the terminal – the Paris Airport Authority (ADP). The ADP itself may be limited in its recovery, however, as it is both the owner and the manager of the terminal building, and it directly employed the designer.

The coverage was placed through the broker Gras Savoye. AXA Corporate Solutions was the lead carrier with around 60 percent of the risk, followed by GAN, a division of France’s Groupama, with around 40 percent. According to the reports reinsurance was placed with Swiss Re, Munich Re, France’s SCOR Group and General Re.
AXA has said only that its exposure would not exceed 10 million euros ($1.3 million). GAN has said that it cannot estimate the amount of the loss, while SCOR indicated that it would have no significant impact on the reinsurer’s results.

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