Testing failures behind T5 'embarrasment', say MPs

The problems that led to a “national embarrassment” at the Heathrow Terminal 5 opened earlier this year were caused by poor training and systems testing.

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The problems that led to a “national embarrassment” at the Heathrow Terminal 5 opened earlier this year were caused by poor training and systems testing, according to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee.

The MPs’ report, published today (3 November), highlights the impact of building delays on testing, and failures in basic communications between British Airports Authority (BAA), which owns the £4.3 billion Terminal 5 (T5), and British Airways, who have sole use of the terminal.

The baggage handling system at the heart of T5 was designed by Vanderlande Industries and IBM and is operated by Alstec.

While Vanderlande has constructed baggage handling systems for many of the world’s largest hub airports, the "scale of the system at T5 is greater than anywhere else in the world,” the MPs noted, adding that the system employed "employs no unproven technology".

Despite the well-known risk of baggage system failures when new airport terminals open, BAA’s strategy director Mike Forster said two weeks before T5 opened: “We have a world-class baggage system that is going to work perfectly on day one”.

However, BAA knew of potential problems, the report revealed. BAA subsequently told MPs that, as a consequence of delays in the building programme and its knock on effects, “the end-to-end integration testing of key British Airways operational IT systems was delayed until 31 October (2007), which affected our ability to run both the proving trials and staff familiarisation as planned".

BAA said: "The planned sequence and content of some of the proving trials changed significantly and was reduced in scope because of the inability to access the whole of the Terminal 5 site, with several planned trials being cancelled."

Giving evidence to the MPs, the airline and the airport authority highlighted a series of basic project management failures.

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