Some people who have lived here for half a century claim that they have never passed a single day without seeing a construction site or crane. And it isn’t only the city that is in flux; its “gate to the world” – the airport – has also reinvented itself multiple times over the decades. And it is now happening again, since the construction of the new Terminal 3 began in the south of Frankfurt Airport in the fall of 2015. The plans for it were actually forged quite a bit further back in time, though. In the late 1990s, Fraport―the airport’s operator―began talking with the city of Frankfurt about a possible expansion. The reason was that over the long term, the two existing terminals―the first of which had begun operating back in 1972 while the second was inaugurated in 1994―would be outpaced by the steady growth in aviation volumes. By 2019 the number of passengers using Frankfurt Airport had swelled to more than 70 million. Unforeseen events can definitely interrupt or dramatically reverse this trend, like the COVID-19 pandemic that began in the spring of 2020. However, as other crises have shown in the past, the aviation sector eventually resumes expanding.
The new Terminal 3, conceived as the centerpiece of a long-term strategic expansion project, therefore continues to be an essential ingredient for ensuring the future of Frankfurt Airport. Its inherent modularity makes it possible to flexibly schedule the construction and opening of its parts depending on the actual need for extra capacity. By the time it is finished, it will be able to handle up to 25 million passengers a year. The construction project began in earnest in 2015, when work got underway on the main terminal building and Piers H and J. The first section of Pier G wasn’t initiated until 2019. The parts now under construction, once finished, will enable Frankfurt Airport to welcome some 19 million additional passengers a year. However, since Fraport doesn’t expect passenger volumes to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2026, currently there are no plans to inaugurate Terminal 3 any earlier than that. Representing an investment of around four billion euros, the new terminal ranks among the largest privately financed infrastructure projects in European history.
The underlying concept of the terminal makes it possible to flexibly advance its construction in three phases, depending on the actual need for additional capacity. The first phase comprises the main building with arrival and departure levels plus a marketplace and lounges, as well as an automated baggage conveyor system. The second phase comprises Pier H (Schengen) with a length of 400 meters and Pier J (non-Schengen), which will be 600 meters long when finished. Pier G, finally, is designed as a fully self-sufficient, state-of-the-art passenger handling facility that will subsequently be integrated into the new Terminal 3. If required in order to meet demand, this third pier can later be extended by about 200 meters.
Yet flexibility is only one of the hallmarks with which Terminal 3 sets new standards. This facility is designed so that all infrastructure, the piers, gates, and transportation and baggage systems, and the retail marketplaces can be extended or modified as required at any time and without interrupting operation.
“Today, airports have become destinations in themselves. And most of them receive more visitors than many downtown areas. This makes it even more essential for airports to perform many of the same functions as cities. Which is exactly what we are going to accomplish with Terminal 3.” (Christoph Mäckler, architect of Terminal 3)
Modern but with a feel-good ambiance: it was with this promise that Frankfurt architect Christoph Mäckler convinced the jury and won the contest held to choose who would design the new Terminal 3. Previously, the London architectural firm Foster and Partners had won the first round, the architectural competition, and designed the basic shape of the modular terminal. In Mäckler’s architectural vision, piers, gates and lounges are reminiscent of a city’s streets and squares.
His idea is to go beyond merely building a transit zone and create an urban environment in which people enjoy working, shopping, eating, relaxing and, of course, boarding planes to distant destinations. Light-flooded spaces in warm natural hues evoke a pleasant atmosphere that invites travelers to settle in and stay a while. “This will clearly set Frankfurt Airport apart from other international airports,” says Mäckler. “It will be the world’s first terminal in which people can truly feel good.”
In other words, not only passengers: airport employees will also enjoy pleasant working conditions. Among other things, there will be as little artificial lighting as possible. Instead, floor-to-ceiling glass panes will admit natural daylight into voluminous halls, rooms and other areas. Cables and pipes will blend smoothly into the architecture to avoid disrupting its esthetics and expansiveness. This attention to detail will doubtless also please visitors and shoppers. The marketplace in the middle of the new terminal will occupy around 3,000 square meters and be filled with boutiques and shops, as well as food outlets serving a wide range of cuisine
Today’s airports are complex transportation nodes that are integrated into a global network and used by millions of people. It is therefore essential to create a terminal building that accommodates and adapts to the needs of those who enter it. Unexpected delays, for example, may make it necessary for travelers to spend more time here than planned. Terminal 3 is also designed to make it as easy and straightforward as possible for passengers to get to their flights.
A special challenge is posed by the relatively large distance from Terminal 3 to the other terminals and the regional and long-distance train stations in the north of the airport. They are located a couple of kilometers apart as the crow flies and separated by two runways, which makes the actual distance even greater. To nevertheless ensure that travelers can get to and from Terminal 3 as conveniently and fast as possible, a new Sky Line train similar to the existing Sky Line train is being built. It will link the new terminal in the south of the airport with the two existing terminals and other transportation facilities in the north. The ride between Terminals 1 and 3 will take about eight minutes with a brief stop at Terminal 2. Its dual tracks will be nearly six kilometers long, running partly at ground level and partly raised, supported by columns. The system will have capacity to carry more than 4,000 travelers per hour and direction between the airport’s three terminals. An extended motorway interchange will also let those arriving by car conveniently drive straight to Terminal 3.
What has been planned step by step over the years is slowly taking on more and more concrete forms. With the completion of Pier G in 2021, the first intermediate finish line is approaching. In 2024, according to current plans, the construction of the main building and the Piers H and J in the south of Frankfurt Airport is completed.
Discover Terminal 3 via Virtual Reality! Enjoy a 360-degree view of the new terminal at Frankfurt Airport on your computer or your smartphone. If you want to switch to another view, navigate the red dot onto the desired preview. With a mouse click or a tip on the touchscreen you can then explore the different areas of Terminal 3. Give it a try!