The expansion of Frankfurt Airport into an airship port with giant airship hangars began in the south of the airport in 1934. At its inauguration in 1936, everyone talked about this new “world airport”. But the demise of the Hindenburg, one of the largest airships ever built, in a highly publicized accident abruptly ended the zeppelin era in Frankfurt. From that time on, passenger aircraft with increasing passenger capacities replaced the airships. Almost all major European cities were now accessible from Frankfurt. The new Terminal 3 has been under construction in the south of the airport since October 2015.
Following talks between Fraport and the city of Frankfurt on the expansion of the airport in the late 1990s, a comprehensive two-year mediation process was initiated. Besides Fraport, it involved representatives of the government of the state of Hesse, residents of nearby communities, citizens’ initiatives, employers’ associations, and trade unions. Over the course of two years, the participants agreed on the general conditions for expanding the airport. In June of 2000, the government of Hesse approved the project. Immediately afterward, the supervisory board of Fraport AG publicly announces its plan to expand the airport.
No fewer than 46 architectural firms all over Europe submitted their ideas for the new terminal at Frankfurt Airport. Foster and Partners of London won the architectural competition on June 28, 2002 by convincing the eight-member jury with a modern, sustainable concept. In the subsequent competition to choose who would design the actual terminal, Frankfurt-based architect Christoph Mäckler won out against nine other architectural firms with his credo of “modern with a feel-good ambiance”. The three main parts of the building―the check-in hall, the airside areas after the security checkpoints, and the central marketplace―were conceived as modules that could be flexibly modified as required.
The landmark decision to approve the zoning plan met the prerequisites for expanding the airport by building a new runway and a new terminal. It defined the construction projects and infrastructural measures that Fraport would implement. The resolution also covered the enlargement of the Zeppelinheim interchange on the A5 motorway and the construction of a new Sky Line people mover line to link Terminal 3 with Terminals 1 and 2.
The official approval for building Terminal 3 was a major milestone―the planning work was then able to really get going. In the first phase of the project, two piers with 24 adjacent aircraft parking positions were built. The permit also stipulated that the new Sky Line station there would be in a raised position alongside the terminal drive-by platform. The original plans had called for it to be on the first underground level of the terminal building.
A very special day: after more than 15 years of intensive planning, permit applications, and tests, the official starting gun went off at Frankfurt Airport for Europe’s largest-ever privately funded infrastructure project. Four hundred Fraport employees and 200 invited politicians and business leaders were on hand for this momentous occasion.
Right after the groundbreaking ceremony in October 2015, the first phase of construction got underway: dry excavation. A pit spanning 65,900 square meters was created in only six months. To accomplish this feat, excavators removed enough earth to fill an average of around 300 dump trucks a day. At the peak of activity, the volume amounted to 5,500 cubic meters per day.
Terminal 3 must be easy to reach by car, taxi and bus. To ensure this, new access roads were built and the Zeppelinheim interchange on the A5 motorway was enlarged and extended. The first major related project was construction of the access and exit ramps for the elevated drive-by platform, which would be at the same height as the departures level of Terminal 3. First a total of 48 foundation piles 1.2 meters in diameter with lengths of up to 18 meters were driven into the ground. Their role was to stabilize the ground so the ramps would have a sturdy foundation. Then cages made of steel reinforcement bars (rebars), with a length of nine meters and weighing 4.5 tonnes, were lifted onto the piles, welded together, and filled with concrete. For the access ramp, molds were made of appropriately shaped formwork and then filled with concrete.
In the second phase―special below-ground engineering―wet excavation deepened the pit further down to its final depth well below the water table. After specially trained divers had prepared the bottom, concrete was poured to create a solid foundation. To prevent more water from entering the pit from the sides, first it was sealed by retaining walls. After the poured concrete had cured to the required hardness, the water in the pit was pumped out, purified, and returned to the soil.
Fraport began building a new Sky Line people mover to make sure that everyone can get to and from Terminal 3 without hassles, including passengers changing planes at Frankfurt Airport and those who get to Terminal 1 by train. Besides the tracks, a large maintenance building and a new station are being constructed at Terminal 1, with all of the work being done in cramped conditions between other facilities without interrupting operations―a major engineering and logistical challenge. Work on the bored piles for the route began in July 2019.
The building inspectorate of the city of Frankfurt issued a permit for the construction of Pier G to begin earlier than originally planned. The new pier would shoulder part of the traffic handled by the existing Terminals 1 and 2.
It is a full-fledged, state-of-the-art aircraft and passenger handling facility with lean, straightforward processes. Once it begins operating, initially four to five million passengers per year will be able to travel via Pier G.
The contract was awarded to the general contractor at the end of 2018, and construction began in June 2019. The first phase of construction work for Pier G was largely complete before the end of 2021.
Following the foundation work, the construction of Pier H with an integrated apron control tower began, marking the official start of the structural work for Terminal 3. Work on Pier J also kicked off in the first half of 2019. Between them, the two piers will have 24 adjacent aircraft parking positions. Pier H will have two levels for Schengen passengers and Pier J three floors for non-Schengen travelers.
The two gates are seamless shell structures. Several smaller sections were built about a meter apart and then joined by concrete. Seven sections would form the 400-meter-long Pier H, while the even longer Pier J measuring 600 meters, would comprise eight.
Work to build the main terminal building kicked off with a cornerstone ceremony on April 29, 2019. The building is the heart of Terminal 3 where many passengers begin and/or end their journeys. The spacious departure hall features an 18-meter-high ceiling and a surrounding glazed exterior. Travelers can conveniently check in here and drop off their luggage. And after clearing the security check, they can relax and enjoy themselves in a lounge area spanning 6,200 square meters plus a large marketplace filled with numerous shops, restaurants and cafés.
Passenger cars and taxis will be able to use an access ramp to drive straight up to a drive-by platform measuring 550 by 30 meters in front of the departure hall. Another ramp leads back down on the other side.
But it will take a while before vehicles can roll over the asphalt. First the main load-bearing system of the 14.5-meter-high structure has to be built. A stable foundation for the drive-by table is ensured by 13-meter-long large bored piles and 28 transversely aligned reinforcing steel frames resting on V-shaped supports.
Fraport is building a new Sky Line train to make sure that everyone can get to and from Terminal 3 without hassles, including passengers changing planes at Frankfurt Airport and those who come by rail to Terminal 1. Besides the tracks, a large maintenance building and a new station will be built at Terminal 1, with all of the work being done in tight conditions between other facilities without interrupting operations―a major engineering and logistical challenge!
In addition to the preparatory work on the new Sky Line station at Terminal 1, the first bored pile work for the route was started in July 2019.
The foundation work at the Terminal 3 construction site neared its grand finale: concrete was poured into the last water-filled pit while work on the underground levels of the main building had already begun nearby. As soon as the underwater concrete was dry, the water was pumped out. After excavating 670,000 cubic meters of earth and pouring 40,000 cubic meters of underwater concrete, the foundation work was completed so that construction of the main terminal building could begin.
To ensure regular service by the 12 trains of the new Sky Line line, work on a new maintenance building began east of Terminal 2. The preparations began in February 2020, followed by construction work that continued through the summer of 2021.
After the cornerstone of Terminal 3 was ceremonially laid in April 2019, the main building rose steadily from the construction pits. The schedule called for the shells of all of the below-ground levels to be completed by the fall of 2020. While work continued on the upper levels, plumbing was already being installed down below. For the main building alone, this involved a total of about 290 kilometers of pipes for the HVAC, sanitary, and fire extinguishing systems: nearly the distance between Frankfurt and Munich as the crow flies.
While work on the carcass of the main terminal building approached completion, the next milestone got underway: the roof of the check-in hall. This is roughly the size of two and a half soccer fields and therefore had to be shoved onto the top of the building from one side as a series of hinged elongated sections similar to those of a roller shutter (but much larger). First, however, the construction site was prepared for the heavy equipment required for this task. The auxiliary structures for connecting the sections were installed during the following summer. In the fall, heavy-duty cranes would go into action to lift the sections onto the roof and push them into their final positions.
Work began to build the new Sky Line station between Terminal 1 and the Sheraton Hotel just a few minutes’ walk from the regional and long-distance train stations. The supports were installed, followed soon afterward by construction of the main body of the station and the connections between it, the terminals, the train stations, and the hotel. After arriving at the airport by train, passengers heading for Terminal 3 will proceed there.
The shell of the new apron control tower at Pier H reached its final height of nearly 70 meters. The shell of the turret, which extends six meters up above the tower’s shaft, had also already been completed. Beginning in the summer of 2021, this was followed by work to build the exterior and install various technical systems. Large angled glass panes will provide the controllers with a 300-degree view. The tower also boasts Terminal 3’s tallest elevator.
The impressive marketplace, featuring an exotic undulating steel ceiling 127.4 meters long, is the centerpiece of the main terminal building. Twenty steel girders had to be assembled to hold up the roof. Due to the marketplace’s location inside the main terminal building, it was necessary to use a special crawler crane. There were 45 truckloads of parts for the ceiling, which took three days to assemble. The crane carried the girders, weighing about 31 tonnes each, one at a time from the front of the building and lifted them into place.
The first phase of the work to build Pier G, which will have capacity for up to five million passengers a year, was largely completed before the end of 2021. Depending on how the demand situation develops as air travel volumes recover, Fraport AG has the option of putting it into operation earlier than the rest of Terminal 3. The main terminal building itself, including Piers H and J (for another 14 million passengers a year) presumably won’t be needed until 2026.
A new bridge structure was installed to enlarge the Zeppelinheim interchange on the A5 motorway and optimally link the new Terminal 3 to the surrounding network of roads. First, piles were installed to support the 142-meter-long, four-section structure. In mid-2021, the bridge sections were then brought to the site and lifted into place at night while the entire motorway was temporarily blocked to traffic. The plans called for the interchange to begin operating in the first quarter of 2022.