London Heathrow, one of the most profitable international airports in the world, is simply bursting at the seams. Terminals 1, 2 and 3 were built before 1980 to handle 45 million passengers a year, yet on average 68 million fly through, while Terminal 4 is functioning at four times the capacity it was designed for.
So it’s not surprising that BAA has come under fire, with commentators saying that delays at Heathrow damage London’s status as a major financial centre. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has blamed Heathrow chiefs for the airport’s poor services. “Certainly Heathrow does shame London,” he said. “It is typical of the English short-termism, lack of planning, lack of investment.”
City minister, Kitty Ussher, has also issued a broadside at Heathrow, warning that London’s status as a leading financial centre is at threat because of the unhappiness executives feel at the “Heathrow hassle”.
Nick Gaines, director of business critical systems and IT at Heathrow’s owner the British Airports Authority (BAA), concedes that the biggest problem for those passing through Heathrow’s existing terminals has been overcrowding. “There is an enormous scale of congestion for Heathrow today. Security threats, fog and snow, there is an event every month, or every week. The infrastructure is old and under immense pressure. Ultimately, issues are going to occur,” he says.
But the airport’s fifth terminal building T5, due to open in March, should go some way to take the strain. BA has transformed its IT systems and cut operational costs in preparation, reveals CIO Paul Coby during a tour of the unfinished facility. The state-of-the-art terminal has cost BA and BAA £4.3bn to build and outfit. BA says around £75m of these costs are for technology, while BAA invested a further £175m in IT systems, including a sophisticated baggage handling system.
In addition to the main terminal building, T5 also consists of two satellite buildings (the second of which will be completed by 2011) that will be linked by an underground transit train. The expansion comprises 60 aircraft stands, a new air traffic control tower, the diversion of two rivers and over 13km of bored tunnel, including extensions to the Heathrow Express and Piccadilly Line services.
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