30 March 2008

Terminal 5

In the early hours of last Thursday (27 March), Heathrow's brand new Terminal 5 opened for business with the arrival of the 0450 plane from Hong Kong.

The airport cost £4.3 billion to build and was funded by BAA. Completed on budget and to time the new building is capable of handling 30 million passengers a year. Some of the projects undertaken in the building of T5 included moving the 900-tonne top cab of a new 87m high control tower 2km across the airfield; tunnelling over 13km for rail and baggage links; diverting two rivers; installing over 30,000 square meters of glass building facades and erecting the UK's largest free-standing building.

The complex boasts 60 new aircraft stands, plans for two satellite buildings (one has been built the other projected for completion in 2010); direct rail links to the Tube and Heathrow Express and a multi-storey car park. It is to be solely occupied by British Airways, who plan to move virtually all their long-haul flights from neighbouring T4 over the next month with only a very small number remaining at T3.

The project was vehemently opposed by local residents and environmental groups and was only given the go-ahead following the positive outcome of a record-breaking expensive four-year Public Inquiry, running from 1995-1999.

However "teething problems" with the hi-tech automated baggage handling equipment saw a large number of delays in arriving passengers claiming their luggage and flights leaving were subject to delays; there were 36 cancellations. Worse was to come on Friday (28 March) when an estimated 20% of flights were cancelled while BA and BAA struggled to catch-up with the backlog of luggage they had.

BAA and BA have yet to provide a full explanation for the disruption experienced by passengers. However, the luggage problems are understood to have resulted from a shortage of staff airside with British Airways workers unable to keep pace with the automated conveyor baggage system which moves luggage from check-in desks to airline bays. BA staff were reportedly delayed by security checks and problems finding parking spaces. As a result, the underground conveyor system became clogged up even though the fast bag drop inside the terminal was working as planned.