Monday, May 24, 2004 Press recriminations over airport collapse Why did a building meant to pass the draconian safety standards for public buildings collapse like a house of cards? - Liberation It remains to be seen if this race against time had an impact on the proper workings of the building site - Liberation United Kingdom - BBC News The collapse of part of a terminal at Charles de Gaulle-Roissy airport on Sunday gives rise to bitter questions in the French press. Some blame pressure over completion deadlines for possible shortcuts in carrying out safety checks. But one paper says a design fault could have been the cause. The left-leaning national daily Liberation notes that five months were needed to investigate the disastrous collapse of a gangway at St Nazaire shipyard earlier this year - a gangway designed and built by a single contractor. "One dare not speculate how much time it will take to determine what caused the Roissy terminal to collapse," the paper says, noting that its construction involved as many as 400 contractors. "The investigation looks therefore to be long and controversial." The paper thinks it will highlight the workings of an economy, "where margins aren't won on the best performance, but on the lowest cost". Taking time - the paper says - did not however seem to bother French managers, when they "tightened the schedule to meet the 'political' deadline set for the inauguration". "Eyebrows can already be raised at the fact that certain incidents... did not prompt the authorities to proceed to more advanced checks." 'House of cards' "A terminal built at full speed: unions denounce the pressure put on deadlines by Paris Airports and Air France", is another headline in Liberation. "Why did a building, which was opened less than a year ago and meant to pass the draconian safety standards for public buildings, collapse like a house of cards?" the paper asks. This article introduces an element of mystery, suggesting the terminal was inaugurated in circumstances which were "peculiar to say the very least". The ceremony was delayed by a week at the last moment, after the safety commission refused to give the building its blessing. "Rather than take responsibility for this failure, Paris Airports tried to give some cock-and-bull story about the delay", blaming it on a postal strike, the paper says. It points out that two unions have denounced the "mad rush on the building site", even though they refuse to claim a direct link between this and the disaster. "It remains to be seen if this race against time had an impact on the proper workings of the building site," Liberation says. Design fault? The centre-right Le Monde also raises the issue of union involvement. "The CGT (General Confederation of Labour) of Roissy denounced the pressures... to open this terminal at the pace of a forced march," it says. "We had already flagged up safety problems on site during construction," the paper quotes the National Union of Independent Unions as saying. "Sadly, events have vindicated us," the union says. The right-leaning national daily Le Figaro comes up with a different theory. While conceding that construction of the terminal was finished in a rush, it says that the safety commission delayed the opening not because of structural faults, but "because the final fittings had not been fully installed". The paper says that management and the unions blamed each other for the delays, but "no-one was calling into question the solidity of the structure". "It therefore seems that it is not in the final phase of work that we should look for the flaw, if there is one, but rather further back, in either the design or the construction of the building," it concludes. Attached Photo: Unions complained about safety during construction.