Heathrow: Full to capacity

30 Apr 2012 by BusinessTraveller
With no new runway to provide further slots, Jenny Southan finds out how Heathrow airport intends to keep growing. When it comes to UK aviation policy, the coalition government seems to be in a mess – Prime Minister David Cameron is against a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow, and his deputy, Nick Clegg, is opposed to building a four-runway hub on an island in the Thames Estuary.

Given that passenger demand for London is anticipated to reach 400 million a year by 2050, up 140 million on 2010 data, this lack of consensus is worrying. The expansion of Gatwick and plans for a second runway at Stansted have been discounted and, following a government-commissioned report in March, use of the runway at RAF Northolt also seems unviable.

As discussions spearheaded by London mayor Boris Johnson for the Isle of Grain facility continue, it seems Europe’s busiest airport can do nothing but carry on regardless. Heathrow is being revamped, rebuilt and redesigned as it operates but John Holland-Kaye, commercial director of its operator, BAA, is concerned that this is not enough to allow it to compete with the other major European hubs.

“Paris, Frankfurt and Schiphol are gaining while we lose out,” he says. “China Southern, which is one of the largest airlines in the world, is starting three-times-weekly services to Guangzhou in June [one of only two new confirmed Heathrow routes this year, the other being Bologna] – it came to us eight years ago to ask for slots and we just didn’t have them.

“The airline went to Paris at the same time and got them immediately, so the French have had the benefit of a longer build-up of trade with China and have got more frequency with China than us. That is a loss of business for the UK economy.”

A BAA spokesperson says: “We have added one new route to China this year but our European competitors will [launch] seven. Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam will boast direct flights to Chengdu, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Xiamen, Nanjing, Shenyang and Qingdao from this summer, in addition to flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.” (See In the Picture, page 38, for a visual representation of how European airports are serving Brazil, Russia, India and China.)

More than 70 million passengers travelled through Heathrow in the past year, and it is operating at its maximum permitted capacity of 480,000 aircraft movements per annum. Holland-Kaye says: “It must be the right thing to increase hub capacity soon because so much business is being lost to overseas competitors. We need the connections to emerging markets to allow British business people to go and do new deals and attract inward investment, and to get tourists from those new economies into the UK.”

A recent poll on businesstraveller.com revealed that just over 72 per cent of readers thought a third runway was the best solution to London’s airport congestion. However, despite rumours to the contrary, Chancellor George Osborne has emphasised that he is firmly against this option, so the chance of such a solution ever coming to fruition is now slimmer than ever. In March he was reported as saying: “There is no softening on the question of a third runway at Heathrow.”

Government transport secretary Justine Greening is set to unveil a new aviation policy this summer. In the meantime, spending of about £5 billion continues on improvements to Heathrow, including £900 million towards creating the “world’s largest integrated baggage system”. BAA also says it is working to forge a stronger relationship with the UK Border Agency to reduce immigration queuing times.

Holland-Kaye says: “We are rebuilding it along the lines of Terminal 5. T5 is a great model, being one of the best in the world. Doing more like that will really change people’s perceptions of Heathrow and make it easier to travel through.”

He says that by summer 2014, about two-thirds of passengers will be going through either T5 or T2, the latter of which is being rebuilt (see panel overleaf). In the meantime, Terminal 3 has undergone a £106 million revamp and Terminal 4 has had a £100 million transformation. Once T2 is complete, BAA plans to demolish T1 – the home of Star Alliance – in 2019. Satellite terminal T5C opened last year to make room for BA partner Iberia’s flights to Barcelona and Madrid, which began on March 25 this year.

Holland-Kaye says: “At some point T3 will go too and, in the masterplan, by 2030 we will end up with three terminals – T2 and T5 between the runways, and T4 to the south. The old buildings will be demolished and replaced by big new terminals with satellites that will run between the two runways. Passengers will have newer facilities to go through, and if they are transferring they will be doing it in the same terminal, which will be better for quicker connections.”

Other improvements being made to the overall blueprint of the airport include T2’s mimicking of T5’s “toast rack” design, which sees its satellite terminals sitting like narrow slices of bread between the two runways.

“Sometimes you can be held on the plane while you wait to get to a stand and that is partly because of the [old] layout – it was designed with various cul-de-sacs, so you have to wait for one plane to get out of the way before you can get in,” Holland-Kaye explains. “The new layout means there will be a much freer flow of planes in and out, which means you will be able to get to a stand far quicker. We have two runways and there will be taxiways connecting those so it will be easy for any plane coming off either runway to get to a gate.”

While a third runway seems to be out of the question, Holland-Kaye refutes Boris Johnson’s claims that it would have been an “environmental disaster”. “It’s good that we are having a serious discussion about hub capacity in the UK,” he says. “We have gone through a lot of discussions in the past about the third runway so if that were to be the outcome, I am sure there would be controls on air quality, noise and service access to make sure it is within environmental guidelines.

“Heathrow has always been a pioneer on setting environmental standards – one of the reasons planes are quieter today is because they have had to meet Heathrow’s standards.”

Whatever happens, air travel is set to increase still further in the coming decades, and if London is going to continue to act as one of Europe’s leading hubs, brave, intelligent decisions need to be implemented.

Visit baa.com, heathrowairport.com

Terminal 2 takes shape

The first phase of the construction of the £2.5 billion T2 was completed in February and marked by a “topping out” ceremony that deemed it weatherproof. The old eight million-capacity terminal and Queen’s Building were torn down in 2010, and when the new facility is complete it will be able to accommodate 20 million travellers.

The main building, T2A, will have 12 aircraft stands, while T2B will have 16. Together, they will start welcoming airlines from spring 2014 over a six-month period. Terminal 2A will house 60 self-service kiosks, 60 fast bag-drops, 56 check-in desks and 14 security lanes. A second satellite, T2C, will be added by 2019 at a cost of £4.5 billion, and will be able to accommodate a further ten million passengers.

Terminal 2 will be assigned to Star Alliance’s 25 member airlines. The EU Commission approved the sale of Star member Bmi to IAG (International Airlines Group), which is the parent company for Oneworld members BA and Iberia, at the end of March and, as we went to press, April 20 was the anticipated completion date. Ahead of this, Bmi was set to leave Star on April 18, and will continue to fly from Terminal 1.

What lounges will T2 have? Holland-Kaye says: “We know it will have, provisionally, United, Air Canada and Singapore lounges, a big Star lounge and an independent lounge. This will be of particular interest to transfer passengers who may have a long layover as we want to make sure they are looked after. We recently launched the No 1 Traveller lounge at T3 [see page 37] and that has been a huge success, so we will look to do something similar.”

So what will the passenger experience be like at T2? Holland-Kaye says: “Terminal 2 will be better than Terminal 5 – it’s going to offer a lovely, dramatic welcome, a modern, intuitive space, clear way-finding, wide walkways, the finest lifts and escalators, shorter walking distances, more automation and a faster journey through security. It is going to be on a much more human scale than Terminal 5 so will make it easier for people.”

At the topping-out, Steve Morgan, capital programmes director at BAA, explained how the design of T2, with its undulating roof, “intelligent illuminations” and floor-to-ceiling windows, meant it would be bright. “The lighting [will] be sensed so depending on how much light is in the building, it will turn to whatever level it needs,” he said.

Holland-Kaye adds: “Transfer passengers will have a dedicated route – they will be able to make their connections with less hassle, and they will have a dedicated transfer lounge that will make us a much more competitive hub against the other European airports. [For a report on what Paris Charles de Gaulle is doing to improve transfer experiences, visit businesstraveller.com/tags/paris+cdg.] From your arrival gate you will be able to walk to your car in three minutes. We also want to raise service standards – we will be training our staff to be much more passenger focused. It will be a very different Heathrow.”
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