Fire at Fiumicino Airport Exposes Lack of ‘Plan B’

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Fire

Incident:

A fierce fire devastated part of terminal three at Rome’s Fiumicino airport run by a private company called Airports of Rome.  The terminal is one of four at the airport and serves flights to European countries outside the Schengen no-borders zone and destinations further afield with the exception of Israel and the United States.

The fire erupted shortly after midnight and was not brought fully under control until more than five hours later, by which time the authorities had decided to cancel most of the morning’s flights and close the airport to passengers.  Firefighters said it could take several days to restore normalcy.

When the airport reopened, there were scenes of total chaos with thousands of people trying to find out what was happening and frantic airport staff desperately attempting to deal with the backlog and match disoriented and frustrated passengers to seats on waiting planes.

The first departures of the day involving planes carrying passengers did not take place until after 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) and some carriers saw their entire day’s schedule in and out of the airport wiped out.  Intercontinental flights arriving after overnight trips from the United States and elsewhere were able to land on Thursday morning and some planes took off before midday with only crew on board to ensure they could meet schedule commitments elsewhere.

Alitalia, the airline which has the most flights to and from the airport, advised passengers they could switch to alternative flights up until Sunday or have the price of their tickets reimbursed.

Other airlines made similar commitments, in line with European Union regulations.

The damage:

  • Three airport employees were treated for smoke inhalation but there were no serious injuries.
  • A shopping area in the terminal which is home to a string of upmarket boutiques was devastated.
  • The bit beyond the security gates where the shops are has been completely destroyed.

The questions:

  • Why had a fire limited to one terminal caused such disruption over the entire airport for hours?
  • Does resorting to close everything suggest the absence of a Plan B?
  • Is Rome ready to cope with an anticipated surge in tourist arrivals as a result of the jubilee year declared by Pope Francis from December 8?

Additional woes:

At Rome’s main railway station, thousands of passengers arrived to discover all trains to the airport, which is on the coast around 30 kilometres (20 miles) west of the city, had been cancelled.  The express train link resumed mid-morning but that only served to exacerbate the congestion at the airport.  With passengers being switched from the fire hit building, huge queues built up at the other terminals.

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