Passenger anger as disruption continues at Rome’s disaster-hit airport

People waiting at Fiumicino Airport during the blackout.
People waiting at Fiumicino Airport during the blackout.EPA
 A Canadair firefighting aircraft from Italy drops water over a forest near Fiumicino International airport in Rome.
A Canadair firefighting aircraft from Italy drops water over a forest near Fiumicino International airport in Rome.REUTERS

ROME (AFP) - Flights in and out of Rome’s disaster-hit Fiumicino airport were seriously disrupted for a second day on Thursday after a fire in a nearby pine grove threw dense smoke across the runway.

The blaze on Wednesday forced the suspension of all flights for two hours, with long delays stretching into the night even after the fire was brought under control.

On Thursday, most flights out of the Italian capital’s busiest hub were at least an hour late, with a 20-minute power cut in the terminal adding further to the chaos and infuriating delayed passengers.

Italian television showed images of exasperated travellers venting their anger.

The airport was last forced to close in May after a blaze devastated part of a terminal which has yet to fully reopen.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano confirmed that an investigation had been opened after authorities found that Wednesday’s fire started in multiple places, leading them to believe it was started deliberately.

Fiumicino mayor Esterino Montino said the blaze had spread on a front about one kilometre wide.

“The fire seems to have started in two or three different places,” he added.

May’s blaze was triggered by an electrical fault in a bar which sparked scenes of total chaos, with thousands of people hit by flight cancellations and airport staff forced to wear protective masks.

Terminal three, which handles international flights, was seriously damaged and the airport was forced to reduce capacity by 40 per cent.

Italy’s civil aviation authority ENAC has called an Aug 6 meeting with airport chiefs and Alitalia, which runs half of all flights from Fiumicino, to “verify their capacity to react” to crises after Wednesday’s chaos.

Alitalia said Wednesday that the cost of damages from the May 7 fire had reached 80 million euros (S$120 million), but the figure could still rise.

The airline’s CEO Silvano Cassano said in a statement that it had been an “extremely difficult period” and warned the company could be “forced to shift its growth elsewhere”.

The airport’s woes have piled on the problems for Rome’s mayor Ignazio Marino, who has been battling accusations that the Eternal City has descended into grimy and dishevelled chaos, where the transport sector in particular has failed pitifully in the searing summer heat.

The embattled mayor was confronted with revelations at the end of last year of a mafia network operating out of Rome’s city hall, pocketing millions of euros from a string of lucrative contracts thanks to corrupt contacts on the inside.

Marino promised Tuesday that the heavily-indebted city would be cleaned up in time for a Jubilee year which kicks off in December, appointing a new transport councillor and assuring sceptics that Fiumicino was finally back on track.