Man who wrecked $7bn Berlin airport was ‘apprentice draughtsman’

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Man who wrecked $7bn Berlin airport was ‘apprentice draughtsman’

27 June 2014 | By David Rogers | 3 Comments

Berlin’s Brandenburg airport, which was begun in 2006, was due to be finished in 2012, and is still awaiting its first take off, has been the subject of more extraordinary revelations. 

The latest is that Alfredo di Mauro, the man who was in charge of fire protection for the $6.8bn airport’s terminal, was not a qualified engineer. 

As the failure of this system is the principal reason why the airport is more than two years behind schedule, questions are being asked in the German press and parliament as to how he came to be given the job of chief planner for fire safety.

Di Mauro told the DPA News Agency: “Everyone thought I was an engineer. I just didn’t contradict them.” It has now emerged that he had only served an apprenticeship as a draughtsman. He began work on the airport in 2006, first as a freelancer for an engineering firm that later went bust, then as a salaried employee.

At the beginning of May, Hartmut Mehdorn, the chief executive of the airport, fired di Mauro on the grounds that the relationship of trust between the airport and its safety planner was “now finally broken”. 

By no means all the blame can be laid at di Mauro’s door. Apart from the fire system, it has emerged that the terminal’s cable shafts are dangerously over-burdened, that there are not enough check-in desks or baggage reclaim carousels. The cooling units are also too weak, creating the threat of overheating and the catastrophic failure of the airport’s IT systems. On top of all that, flight paths and sound protections zones have been incorrectly calculated.

Everyone thought I was an engineer. I just didn’t contradict them– Alfredo di Mauro, former chief planner for the fire protection system of the Brandenburg airport

Nor is di Mauro the only “expert” to lose his job. Technical chief Horst Amann, hired in August 2012 as the man to rescue the scheme, lost his job five months later amid reports that his colleagues considered him “out of his depth”. His successor, chief planner Regina Töpfer, went in February this year.

Meanwhile, Jochen Grossmann, the airport’s former technical director, has been accused of accepting $680,000 in bribes and is also being investigated for price fixing. 

Despite this bizarre series of human resources failures, some German critics are claiming that the real cause of the disaster is the fact that the board of directors has been run not by specialists, but by two politicians: Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit and Brandenburg State Premier Matthias Platzeck.

Anyone who wanted to discover more about the airport and its problems would have been able to do so on Monday, if they had looked in two skips outside the site that were filled with confidential information in cardboard archive boxes. 

Among the papers dumped were accounts of the project’s scheduling problems, planning reports, detailed information on the conveyor system, as well as design drawings and layouts for the terminal. The authorities are now trying to find out which member of the project team was responsible for the leak.

The airport is to have a capacity of 27 million passengers a year. The latest plan to get it working safely is to rebuild the smoke extraction system and divide the terminal into three areas to make them “manageable”. The cost of the new system, according to the Berlin Tagesspiegel, will be somewhere in the hundred of millions. The latest opening date is sometime in 2016.