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A fresh airing for Albania

Airports - Albania's hope for a corruption-free culture is one step closer as work on its new international gateway enters the final stages. Jon Young reports.

Albania's Mother Teresa International Airport, some 20 minutes' taxi ride from the capital Tirana, bears witness to the decades of economic misfeasance that has bedevilled this country ? the poorest in Europe.

'Corruption is part of the culture here, ' says Tirana Airport Partners (TAP) construction director Eduard Ostrosi. 'It is hard to break because it runs through every level of society ? nobody is going to listen to government anti-corruption speeches if they believe the government itself is corrupt.'

Ostrosi hopes that his project to build a new terminal at the airport will help rid the country of its reputation for bribery and prove it is possible for international companies to work in the country without having to grease the right palms.

The project will also present a new face to the outside world. 'The airport is the first and last experience a visitor to Albania has, ' says Ostrosi. 'It is therefore paramount to their impression of the country.' Main contractor for the construction of the new terminal is Albanian firm Trema. Its structural engineer Eduart Gjana describes a form of corruption that is typical of the country.

'You don't have to take your driving test if you don't want to, ' he explains. 'You simply have to pay twice the standard fee and you can have a licence without a test, ' he says.

'They claim it is for people who don't have the time to take the test but it is simply a way to make more money.' The $64M investment by TAP has been heralded by the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD) ? the administrator on behalf of the lending banks ? as the rst successful Private Public Partnership (PPP) of its kind in Albania and as one of the most successful projects undertaken by it in all eastern Europe.

'This was a very well-tendered project, among the most successful in eastern Europe and certainly the most successful in Albania, ' EBRD senior banker Pilar Gomez Collado says.

'Many major projects of this size have failed due to discrepancies or loss of faith in the tendering process. It is likely Tirana airport will be used as a benchmark to measure other PPPs against.' Ostrosi says: 'It is transparency that has assured this project is clear of corruption.

A well-structured tender process at all stages prevents any unfair advantages or disadvantages occurring.'

A brief history of Albania

Albania's 3.5M population is concentrated in the country's coastal lowlands leaving the expansive mountainous regions largely deserted.

Over the centuries the country has been invaded by many other peoples, including Romans, Slavs, Serbs and Turks.

The Turkish ccupation inuenced many aspects of life, including language and the role of women in society. In the 19th Century the Ottoman Empire began to weaken and Albania rebelled, gaining its independence in 1912.

Albania began to attempt to establish a democracy. However in 1928, Ahmed Zogu, the former prime minister, declared himself king.

During the Second World War, Albania was occupied by the Italians and later by the Germans.

In 1944, Enver Hoxha assumed control, beginning over four decades of Stalinist rule.

The Albanian people became more and more isolated as their government broke off established relations with Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and China. In 1967, Albania became the first nation in history to declare itself officially atheistic.

After Hoxha's death in 1985 the communist regime began to decline and in 1991 multi-party elections were held. However, the collapse of several pyramid schemes in 1997 threw the country into chaos. The election of the Democratic Party in 2005 on an anti-corruption ticket has brought about some form of political stability.

The Project

On 15 October 2004, TAP, a consortium consistingof Deutsche Investigations und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG), Hochtief and Albanian-American Enterprise Fund, signed a 20 year concession agreement with the government of Albania for the International Airport NÙnÙ Tereza.

'The concession is to finance, design, construct, operate, maintain, manage and develop the new terminal which must be capable of future extension, ' says DIWI construction manager John Freezer.

DIWI is responsible for checking all the design and construction work of main contractor Trema on behalf of TAP.

Since 1998, air traffic has grown in Albania at a rate of 14% per annum, putting existing facilities under severe pressure. The new terminal will be capable of handling one million passengers a year, with the design allowing capacity to be increased to three million.

Trema is responsible for the complete design and build of the new terminal, but as the company's structural engineer Eduart Gjana makes clear, the company's experience in steel was limited.

'We haven't done a steel project of this size before because most of Albania is built out of concrete, because it's faster and cheaper.' Most of Trema's work has been on apartment buildings so this was the most complicated piece of steel work it had done. As a result the firm decided to only carry out the calculation for the frames and trusses leaving the design of complicated connections to the Turkish steel subcontractor who fabricated and assembled the structure.

The east-facing terminal is tallest at the front face in what is known as the truss zone. From its highest point of 16m it slopes through the truss zone and the frame zone to a height of just 9m on its rear or west face.

A dozen struts on a westerly incline of 70 support the truss at the front, giving the impression that the building is toppling over.

Some 13m behind, the green glass faþade leans with the struts but at an angle 2 steeper. A further 24m back an impressive line of A-frames mark the end of the truss zone and the beginning of the frame zone. A relatively simple space frame continues the gentle decline to the east face.

Malaysian architect Hin Tan came up with the initial design with the aim of creating the impression of a bird flying from the mountains.

But it was Trema's additions to the design, such as the two sets of A-frames, one at the front and one at the rear, that made it a reality.

Steel erection is now nearing completion with the terminal scheduled to open in spring 2007.

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