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Heathrow revamp on track despite T5 troubles

Heathrow Terminal 5 owner BAA this week insisted that opera-tional problems marring the new flagship facility's opening would not delay its £3.9bn programme to revamp the airport's remaining terminals.

Redevelopment of the airport depends on British Airways (BA) relocating all of its Heathrow operations to T5, allowing other airlines to vacate ageing facilities.

But BAA construction director Rob Stewart told NCE that while it was working hard "with all stakeholders" to understand what had gone wrong at T5 this week, the current programme to revamp Terminals 1, 3 and 4 and replace Terminal 2 with Heathrow East, remained

"In terms of the exact timings (of redevelopment work at Heathrow) it is too early to say," said BAA construction director Rob Stewart. "The key thing is to investigate what hasn't gone well. That will inform us about how our future plans look but it's too early to speculate from a construction perspective."

BAA's programme of work to redevelop Heathrow was agreed by regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), on 11 March. This plan includes capital expenditure at Heathrow of some £3.9bn over the next five years.

Central to this plan is the £2bn Eastern Campus project to redevelop Heathrow's Terminal 1 complex and then replace it and Terminal 2 with Heathrow East. This relies on BA moving its operations entirely to Terminal 5 to free up space in Terminal 4 for other airlines during the rebuild. This move, scheduled for 30 April is code named "Switch Two" within BAA.

Any delay to the Switch Two date could impact plans but Stewart said BAA remained confident its programme would stand.

"We are still driving towards the original Switch Two date," Stewart told NCE. "But if anything suggests that we can't deliver an effective switch over then we will reconsider. If the present rate of recovery at T5 continues then we will hit this date."

CAA figures show that £111M is expected to be spent between now and 2010 on the massive task of moving airlines at Heathrow.

Despite the public show of T5 solidarity, sources within BAA have highlighted the disappointment within the business that the opening went so badly last week.

Since then BA has continued to cancel flights as it wrestles with baggage handling problems. A backlog of up to 15,000 pieces of luggage still had to be cleared as NCE went to press.

Stewart emphasised to NCE that, contrary to much of the mainstream media reporting, the problems at T5 were not down to infrastructure

"We are confident that the engineering and construction solution at T5 is right," said Stewart. "The go-live hasn't gone right and there has to be learning from this – but learning in how to plan a handover not about the design and construction of the facilities."

He refused to be drawn into discussions about blame but said: "The problems (at T5) are due to human factors and not due to failure of the construction or engineering solutions.

"It is a huge facility, designed to handle 30M passengers a year," he added.

"The infrastructure is extremely impressive and it appears to be working," he said pointing out that despite some media reports to the contrary, the baggage equipment did not fail and was now performing as designed.

NCE's Engineering Modern Airports conference is on 29 May

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