News

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 confirmed.

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 5.”

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.

Visit parliament.co.uk.

Report by Liat Clark

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