T5: The lessons learned

3 Nov 2008 by Mark Caswell

Heathrow Terminal
Five’s disastrous debut could have been avoided, a report released today has

The Transport Select
Committee (TSC) investigating the debacle has concluded that the chaotic
opening on March 27 of the £4.3 billion terminal was a result of poor
communication and preparation on the part of both BAA and British Airways. The TSC
also confirmed that it considers BAA to be a monopoly that should be dismantled
(in concurrence with the Competition Commission’s findings).

During the inquiry it
unfolded that BAA and BA only held joint meetings after things began to go
wrong – namely issues with the baggage system, security searches and car
parking. The terminal’s problems are considered to have been a direct result of
this lack of co-operation, though the TSC also cited poor staff training and
system testing by BA as significantly contributory.

BA representatives
admitted that staff training had not been thorough enough, and that the opening
should have been delayed to allow for sufficient testing and training.

Willie Walsh, BA’s
chief executive said: “We knew this was a risk, it was a calculated risk and a
risk that I agreed to take.”

Representatives for BAA
agreed that the opening of Terminal 5 carried “inherent risks”.

Louise Ellman MP, the committee
chair, said: “We acknowledge the inevitability of ‘teething problems’ but it is
deeply regrettable that so many were allowed to bring the operation of
Heathrow’s newest terminal to a halt.

“We were struck by how
much ‘hoping for the best’ BAA had engaged in prior to the opening of Terminal

Ms Ellman, who
criticised BAA executives for showing up unprepared for their first evidence session,
called the terminal’s opening “an occasion of national embarrassment”.

BAA and BA have now committed
to holding daily and weekly meetings where attendees, including senior managers,
will review T5’s progress. The Commission said it was satisfied that the right steps
have been made to ensure operations run smoothly in the future.

After six years of
construction T5 left thousands without their baggage, and cancelled 34 flights
on its first day of business.


Report by Liat Clark

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