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Checking the new Dusseldorf airport fire safety concept with FRAME
In many cases, a catastrophic fire like the one that occurred on 11 April 1996 in the Dusseldorf Airport, provokes the S.A.B.E.N.A. Syndrome : "Such A Bloody Experience Never Again". It touches building owners and authorities alike, and the result is a building concept where any imaginable and available protection features is included without much consideration for the necessity and for the economics of such a design. This apparently happened also in Dusseldorf, as can be seen in the next review.

The central airport building was completely renewed and provided for a larger flow of passengers with more comfort and more services. The new fire safety concept addresses all weaknesses found during the analysis of the 1996 event, and uses the following main goals :

minimising fire loads,


early detection of fire

smoke control

safeguarding the evacuation

Minimising fire loads

Fire loads have been minimised through the use of non-combustible or difficult to ignite materials for building insulation, decoration and finishings.


The new structure was designed to be 1.5h fire resistive (F90), except for the large hall roof, where fire simulation calculations indicated that the available fire load combined with sprinklers could not generate critically high temperatures. The departure wings were separated from the main buildings and the lower floors subdivided in fire compartments. Separations were made by fire partitions and by fire resistant glass facades.


Maximum distances to a safe exit way were imposed and two exit paths were designed for every point of the building. This results in about 36 protected staircases which go directly to the open air. External staircases have smoke vents, internal staircases have overpressure protection. Additional care was given to indicate very clearly the exit paths. Doors that have to be locked for normal security and border control reasons are linked to the fire detection system so that they can be unlocked automatically in case of fire.

Fire protection systems

The airport has a very developed alarm and information management systems, based on a general automatic fire detection system and a zone-oriented information system . The fire detection system also controls the air-conditioning, the smoke management system, the steering of elevators and the unlocking of emergency exit doors. The system is subdivided in about 200 fire zones. The communication system can address people in four languages, and has numerous features to provide detailed information.

Smoke management

Mechanical smoke management systems have been installed: the check-in hall is equipped with 26 smoke fans each of 100.000 Nm3/h capacity. The lower levels have a special developed smoke management system to,extract smoke before it can move through opening for light and communications. Air conditioning is monitored by the smoke detection to avoid smoke spreading around.

The whole building is now protected by sprinklers, and special fire protection systems have been foreseen for special risk areas. The atrium like central hall has no ceiling sprinklers, which would only operate with some delay. Instead increased density systems have been installed below all galeries adjacent to that area. Low temperature and low RTI were specified to be sure that a fast response of the sprinklers can be guaranteed.

FRAME calculation

The data available in the reference article were enough to recalculate the fire risk for the new concept. The result shows a very low residual risk, which goes beyond the standard "good" level proposed by FRAME. The pendulum swung to the other side as could be expected: Based on the FRAME calculations, it is possible to say that in the Dusseldorf Airport, the fire protection design was not properly balanced: before the catastrophe it was too poor, afterwards

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