SOFIA AIRPORT TO KEEP WAITING
The news that the completion of the Sofia Airport terminal will be delayed seemed to surprise nobody. On August 30, the newly-appointed Minister of Transport Peter Mutafchiev quietly reached an agreement with the Chairman of the Austrian Strabag company Board of Directors, Nematollah Farrokhnia, the member of the board Ludwig Steinbauer, and the leader of the project Johan Poelzel to postpone the launching date by six to eight weeks. It was easily forgotten that Mutafchiev's predecessor, Nikolay Vassilev, repeated many times that the August 31, 2005 deadline would be kept and as a result a number of technical requirements and norms regarding the safety of passengers and flights were ignored. It is strange, however, that nobody from the Transport Ministry said a word about defaults, whereas the agreement signed with Strabag on December 16, 2002 stipulates that the contractor should pay EUR100,000 for each day of the delay.The Austrian company will hardly observe the new deadline, too. It is threatened to fall in its own trap set on May 12, 2004, when it chose (and the former deputy transport minister Sofia Kassidova approved) the suppliers of technical equipment to the terminal - the Portuguese Efasec company (engaged with the hand luggage management system), the Spanish Team (engaged with the passengers' arms) and the US L3Communications (chosen for scanner supplier). Sources from the Ministry of Transport informed that even when the equipment was tested before being put in operation, it would show functional disturbances and problems ignored so far that will result in further delay and growth of the price. In fact, even one year ago aviation experts warned that the equipment provided by Efasec, Team and L3Communications did not meet the requirements of the European Regulation 2320/2002 on the single aviation safety norms, because their technical specification dated back to 1999-2000 when the technical project and the tender documents of the terminal were prepared and a contractor was chosen. Since then the requirements towards contractors and subcontractors have not changed, although in the aftermath of September 11 new security standards were introduced. The Transport Ministry and the Sofia Airport AD did not allow these requirements to be updated, because that would take time and prolong the term for conclusion of the project. However, experts claim that the coordination might have been done in a few days, simultaneously with the building of the new terminal. Recommendations of that kind coming from the European Commission observers who visited the construction at the beginning of the year were totally ignored, too.In the weeks (or months - see the interview with Yonko Penev) that remain, the equipment that is not delivered yet should be installed and the plane stopping places should be built. Passengers' arms, luggage belts and registration desks have been installed so far. The new terminal will have 32 check-in desks and 29 offices of air companies that will serve 2,000 passengers per hour, or 2.5 million per year. But even if it was opened on August 31, 2005, it didn't necessarily mean that it would immediately be flooded by people. One should not forget that the runway will be launched on October 31. Yet, nobody knows when the road connecting the Brussels boulevard with the new airport equipment will be ready for exploitation because of the debates on expropriation of the ground.