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Heathrow heads for the 21st century

Heathrow East: More change is coming at Heathrow as its oldest building is set to be replaced by a state of the art facility.


In 1955 Heathrow Airport’s first permanent passenger terminal was opened by the Queen. More than 50 years later, the building is still in operation as Terminal 2 (T2), but is now looking more than a little tired.

The opening of BAA’s flagship 21st century Terminal 5 (T5) in March signalled the time for the aged T2 to bow out and be replaced by the new ultra-modern Heathrow East terminal . “We will deliver a fantastic passenger experience to rival Terminal 5,” says BAA Heathrow East terminal programme manager, Duncan Pickard.

“It’s about giving airlines competitive equivalence across the Heathrow Campus.” The new terminal replaces Terminal T2 and the Queen’s Building, and will include a radical new pier – the long corridor building in which passengers wait before passing through gates. The alignment of the new pier at Heathrow East is planned to be at right angles to the runways, which run across the north and south of the airport.

This is a change in approach from the original Heathrow layout which had the runways running diagonally across the site. “The initial layout of the runways was like a Star of David,” explains BAA Eastern Campus programme director, Phil Wilbraham, pointing out the now disused cross-wind diagonal runways at Heathrow.

“Modern aircraft can take off and land on our north and south runways in all wind conditions and so the cross runway is no longer required,” he says. “We are trying to rearrange the buildings to sit like a toast rack, perpendicular to the runway to improve connectivity and efficiency.”

Building the new terminal and an efficient pier will require some challenging logistics. It will be built on the site of an existing terminal within an operational airport and hidden behind hoardings from the millions of passengers who pass through Heathrow each year.

“All of this has to happen while we have passengers coming through Terminal 1 (T1) ,” says Julian Foster, BAA programme manager for Terminal 1 and the new Heathrow East satellite pier. “We have to be the silent and invisible builder”

The first step is to clear the existing terminal for demolition. Before T5 came on stream all the terminals were operating at full capacity. But now there is enough slack within the terminals to allow the airlines using T2 to move out. “It’s like a Chinese puzzle, where you move the squares around to make a picture,” says Foster.

Before, all the squares were full, but T5 has given us a window of opportunity to move people around.” The moves from T2 come as part of a bigger scheme of relocations planned by BAA. This will see airlines grouped by alliance to reduce transfer times for passengers.

We are trying to arrange the buildings to sit like a toast rack perpendicular to the runway

BAA has been busy with a refurbishment programme at the existing terminals in preparation for the move. This includes extensive work to T1 even though the Star Alliance will be moving out into Heathrow East when it is ready. “T1 is a short term fix, Heathrow East is a long term vision which will transform the eastern side of the airport,” says Foster.

Nonetheless, a great deal of work has gone into delivering modern facilities for the airlines. Project manager Mace is completing £60M worth of work to arrivals and departures areas, while contractor Taylor Woodrow is carrying out £20M of work to immigration and connections.

Pier refurbishment and the £100M construction of the northern section of the new satellite pier is being undertaken by Balfour Beatty. “T1 departures used to be full of check-in islands,” says Foster. “Now it’s got e-ticket and self service facilities, it’s a lighter brighter space. There are a lot of projects to do with the Star Alliance, like a shared executive lounge, but also there are changes to comply with Department for Transport regulations, with regard to segregation of passengers.”

Heathrow eastern campus - detail

A. Heathrow East - location of new terminal building
Heathrow’s oldest terminal is to be demolished and replaced by a modern, environmentally friendly passenger terminal
B. Terminal 1
Refurbished to provide space for airlines following BA’s move to T5.
C. Terminal 2
Now being emptied ahead of demolition. New Heathrow East terminal will sit on the site.
D. Queen’s Building
Current administrative centre for airlines and BAA will be emptied and demolished
E. Eastern apron redevelopment
New satellite to be constructed perpendicular to the runway  

Concurrently with the preparations at T1, work is starting on the northern end of the new satellite pier, which lies outside the existing building footprint. The northern section of the pier is scheduled to be ready for use from August 2010,but passengers will still be processed through T1 until the first phase of the Heathrow East building is complete. Preparations are also being made for a start on the demolition of the T2 building. Here, it is not just a case of getting rid of the concrete and steel of the structure. There is a whole raft of services that come with an operating airport; power, water, telecoms and fuel. All must be moved out or worked around.

“All underground services are being lifted onto a new gantry to ensure that T1 remains fully serviced during the construction of the new Heathrow East terminal,” says Pickard. “This releases the site of T2 so we can demolish the existing buildings.”

Airline moves

With Terminal 5 now providing extra capacity at Heathrow, BAA is rearranging its airlines.
Some sophisticated airline juggling has to take place to allow Heathrow to be transformed. As Terminal 2 is emptied ahead of demolition and reconstruction as Heathrow East, BAA is working with its airlines to find the right locations for each.

In future each terminal will be home to specific airline alliances. This will mean quicker transfer times for passengers and the opportunity for shared alliance facilities. It will also mean that passenger numbers become more balanced across terminals to improve passenger experience.

So BA is heading to Terminal 5. The Skyteam Alliance will move to Terminal 4, the Oneworld Alliance will move to Terminal 3 and the Star Alliance (which includes Air Canada and bmi) will move to Terminal 1 and ultimately Heathrow East.

These changes will see 54 of the 93 airlines that fly through Heathrow relocated and it is the job of BAA programme director for airline relocations, Sally Blackwell to ensure the moves go smoothly. “I work with other programme directors so once facilities are delivered, we can move airlines,” says Blackwell. “My team is not about construction or projects, it’s about making sure airlines are ready to move and operations are ready to receive.”

With logistics support from contractor Skanska, Blackwell must ensure facilities are ready so that the airlines can move on time, but also that the airlines do move on time, so that the next phase of construction can take place. If I don’t move someone successfully, then facilities don’t get cleared for development,” says Blackwell. “I’m reliant on facilities being ready for me and they rely on me moving airlines out to create the space.”      

And there are a number of other issues that complicate working on this constrained site. “We are building in an operational airport,” says Pickard. “Air traffic control needs to see aircraft travelling around the runway so we can’t use cranes that block their view.“

The list of constraints is seemingly without end. There is a limit to how high you can build. There’s a corridor along the runway which is protected. The Piccadilly Line runs beneath the site and, as it is not very deep, is sensitive to movements. All construction materials have to be brought into the central terminal area and while working airside, everyone must be security cleared to obtain the special passes.

But a number of lessons have been learnt from the construction of T5, which should help to ease the birth pains of the new facility. Heathrow East will be a substantial building with a footprint of 200m by 300m. However by dividing the footprint into a number of discrete sections, each with its own power and lighting supply, it means that the building can be built and commissioned progressively in blocks and then joined up later as a single entity.

T5 had a footprint of 396m by 176m, but was divided into only three sections. Modularisation and off site construction is also being looked at. The concept design for the new Heathrow East terminal has been developed by architect Lord Foster with Arup as structural engineer and Hoare Lee designing the mechanical and electrical services.

Programme management

BAA has had a change in direction since the framework agreements of Terminal 5.
As BAA T1 and new satellite pier programme manager Julian Foster puts it, “we design to cost rather than cost the design.”

BAA will be pulling out all the stops to bring this latest programme in to budget. “We will monitor progress and report monthly to decide throughout whether we need to take management action,” says BAA Eastern Campus programme director, Phil Wilbraham.

“Our job is to manage it through. “Projects generally run OK 90% of the time. “We need to spend time working on the 10% gap.” 

It will be built by a joint venture of Ferrovial Agroman and Laing O’Rourke. “The Eastern Campus is a big chunk of BAA spend over the next five years,” says Wilbraham. “We’ve got the chance to really change the face of Heathrow. With the new Heathrow East terminal and T5, 70% of all Heathrow passengers will be going through new facilities. We’re changing from Heathrow hassle to Heathrow happiness.”     

The concept design for the new Heathrow East terminal has been developed by architect Lord Foster with Arup as structural engineer  



At T5 BAA learnt about modular construction, plug and play components and off-site construction.
Off site construction could be key to the construction of Heathrow East and modularisation of piers is something that BAA has been looking at very carefully.

Rather than formulating a generic pier, a series of standard configuration items are being developed which can be brought together to form a pier for any given operational situation. “The strategy uses repeatable pier products,” explains BAA T1 and new satellite pier programme manager Julian Foster.

“The requirements of piers do change and consultation with the airlines is key. With a pier, you have an asset that can last 25 to 50 years but an airline can change its fleet in six months. We need to be flexible.”  

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