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Cablegate: Frankfurt Airport Expansion Hits Safety Hurdle

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS FRANKFURT 009273

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EB/TRA BYERLY, PARSON, FINSTON, WALKLET
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/AGS AND EUR/ERA
FAA FOR API-1, AEE-1, AIA-300 AND ASC
PARIS ALSO FOR FAA (EDWARDS)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR ECON PGOV SENV GM
SUBJECT: FRANKFURT AIRPORT EXPANSION HITS SAFETY HURDLE

REF: A) 2002 FRANKFURT 5496; B) STATE 29193 C) FRANKFURT
01549

1. SUMMARY: The expansion of Frankfurt airport has hit a
safety hurdle: the advisory German Safety Commission
(Stoerfallkommission des Bundes), as well as the European
Commission, are examining risks associated with the Ticona
chemical plant located near the planned new runway. The
advisory commission has hinted that it will approve the new
runway, but concurrence is conditioned on expensive safety
upgrades at the chemical plant. German and EU regulatory
actions in this controversial case could have implications
for future growth of hub airports in Europe. END SUMMARY.

2. Now that the German Safety commission has taken up the
issue of the Ticona chemical factory, safety has overtaken
noise as the major obstacle to expanding Frankfurt Airport,
continental Europe's busiest passenger and cargo hub. At
issue is the possibility of an aircraft crashing into the
chemical plant, which is located less than 200 meters from
the planned northwest runway (REF C). With no official
guidelines for this kind of risk analysis, studies using
various methodologies have produced very different
estimates for the likelihood of such a disaster -- from one
case in six hundred years to one in a million years.
Recent public remarks suggest that German Safety Commission
Chairman Christian Jochum views the risk as manageable.
While the Commission's role is only advisory, its findings
(to be released in December) will have substantial
political clout. The European Commission, which has
jurisdiction under the "Seveso II" directive on hazardous
chemicals, will also consider the Ticona issue, but its
time frame is not yet clear.

3. Ticona processes highly toxic chemicals and has tall
smokestacks (considered obstacles under ICAO Annex 14).
Relocating the plant would cost 1.3 billion euros, a sum
beyond the airport's means. Airport management (Fraport)
was slow to realize that the Ticona issue could delay or
even block airport expansion but has recently offered to
fund improved safety at the chemical plant. Fraport would
also pay to move fuel tanks and a power plant outside the
range of the new runway.

4. COMMENT: The Safety Commission's work so far points to
a compromise solution in which regulators would adopt a
middle-range risk estimate, and Fraport would agree to fund
safety upgrades to limit the damage from a crash. Such a
compromise could set the stage for European Commission
approval. The safety commission is an independent advisor
to the German Environment Ministry, whose State Secretary,
Margareta Wolf (Greens), visited Ticona in September and
said the proposed runway is too close to be safe. (The
German Transportation Ministry is more supportive of
expansion). Expansion opponents and supporters alike are
now focused on the Ticona problem, and Fraport officials
admit privately that 2006 is unrealistic for the opening of
the new runway.

5. The Fraport/Ticona case could have significant
implications for air traffic in Europe and for the future
expansion of other hub airports in crowded urban areas.
The new runway would allow Fraport to increase aircraft
movements by 50 percent (to 120 per hour) and boost annual
capacity by 25 million passengers, but the chemical factory
is inside the runway's safety perimeter and too expensive
to relocate. Faced with this conflict, it is German and
European public safety regulators who will determine future
expansion at Frankfurt. END COMMENT.

BODDE

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