Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Moment of truth

Airports T5

BAA changed the construction process to be able to afford Terminal 5. Now construction director Andrew Wolstenholme has to prove its worth in building the £2.5bn scheme.

Everyone knows that airport operator BAA tore up the construction rule book almost a decade ago and introduced partnering deals with framework suppliers to bring down the price of its construction work by at least 30%.

Major clients throughout the UK have followed the same route as they saw the BAA approach bear fruit. But the airport operator had more than just cost savings in mind when it started its revolution. The end game was always Terminal 5.

The company's planners had worked out that if they didn't bring down the price of construction and deliver projects on time and with no claims baggage, then T5 was unaffordable.

With Transport Secretary Stephen Byers' go ahead for T5 in November (NCE 22 November 2001), construction could start before the end of the year. And BAA and its suppliers will have to demonstrate that the advances they have made on individual projects at the company's airports can be just as successful on a multi-faceted scheme of immense proportions.

Choreographer in chief of a mind boggling array of construction activities is BAA construction director Andrew Wolstenholme. On 1 January he found himself with one of the top jobs in the country when he acquired responsibility for building the £2.5bn scheme in addition to his existing role in charge of the operator's £300M annual construction budget.

He inherits at T5 an experienced team to help him and will be working alongside its highly regarded project director Norman Haste.

Wolstenholme is one of the calm, confident, ordered individuals that BAA specialises in producing. But he has an extra stillness and authority that comes courtesy of time spent in his early career as a captain in the British Army. He recognises he will be calling on all his training, experience and inner resources to carry out his new role.

There is no one key parameter to focus on at T5, Wolstenholme says. Cost and programme time are of equal importance. The company cannot stand any price increase and it needs the terminal open as soon as can be to relieve pressure on Heathrow's already overcrowded facilities.

Likewise there is no single construction operation that needs extra attention.

'Everything on the project has been tried and tested before, ' Wolstenholme says. BAA has learned the lessons from its own and other major projects so there are no firsts, no unique forms of signalling and no adventurous styles of tunnelling. The issue for the man at the top is much more broad brush.

BAA is not just erecting a vast terminal structure. It is building a railway connection, digging tunnels, constructing airport roads, car parking, shopping facilities, waste treatment, aircraft stands and liaising with the Highways Agency and London Underground to construct motorway links and a tube extension.

'Terminal 5 is a huge project.

Its sheer size and scale give it an added dimension. The complexity of the project is so interwoven, should you get behind on one area you impose a risk on the whole scheme, ' Wolstenholme says.

The 42 year old arrived at BAA from Arup in 1997 as deputy construction director to work on the Heathrow Express recovery, becoming director in charge of all non T5 construction expenditure in 1999.

But he started out, after earning a first class degree in civil engineering from Southampton University, with three years in the Royal Armoured Corps commanding tanks. For his last posting, he was Aide de Camp to a general.It was, he says, fantastic training particularly in communication and leadership. 'In the same day you are dealing with private soldiers on the front line and a senior general or government minister. You have to learn to talk plainly and simply at all levels. It was wonderful experience in my early twenties.'

The army was also where he learned that process, the right process, is the key to everything.

'But the army trains you that the process also allows you to think 'out of the box'; that is what makes if first and foremost in the world for ingenuity and ability.'

His decision to leave was a hard one to make, but was spurred by the fact that having attained the rank of Captain, that is where he had to stay for three years. Army rules. 'I was impatient, ' he says and thought he would see where a return to engineering would take him.

He joined Arup to design bridges, and resigned himself to relinquishing command and instead being the junior grunt.

However he found that Arup's style complemented the Army's.

'In the Army you get responsibility to begin with; in Arup capable people are able to find responsibility for themselves, ' he says.

He also set himself the challenge of getting chartered as fast as possible which he achieved within just two and a half years.

This was the late 1980s when the place to be was in America erecting high rise. Wolstenholme witnessed skyscraper construction US-style while on secondment to Schal. 'Everything was undertaken at fantastic pace and it was a great opportunity to develop the use of logistics.'

Back in Britain in the 1990s Wolstenholme worked on the seminal Glaxo project in Stevenage where many of the techniques adopted by BAA were born. And from there he went to Hong Kong with Arup to work in project management of some of the airport's core project programme before Heathrow Express beckoned.

At BAA, Wolstenholme is one of those credited with refining the company's framework organisation from having teams linked to airports, to teams dedicated to getting better and better at particular areas of construction such as infrastructure work or shell and core. These cluster groups have taken the efficiency and technology in use in their specialisms to new heights and should make Wolstenholme's job at T5 easier.

'The clusters have been the big wins of the last few years, ' he says. 'They are all about eliminating waste and how you can design for manufacture and then assemble - improving the process of construction.' In some areas, such as pavement design, the team is so good that Wolstenholme believes they have gone as far as they can in terms of taking waste out of the process.

'Our generic pavement stands are now 30% less in money terms than in 1996. We are now honing technical solutions. Work trialled at Stansted on F7 concrete (NCE 1 November 2001) will be taken through to T5.'

The T5 scheme is moving into a new phase. Early design work has to be developed into detailed design and implementation, allowing Wolstenholme to bring his experience with the clusters on live projects to bear.

At the moment BAA is adopting a softly softly approach to T5.

It will not know for another couple of weeks whether there will be a judicial review of the inquiry decision and it is still wading through the inspector's 1,200 page report to see how that influences its plans. It also needs to gain a whole series of detailed planning permissions on different aspects of the project.

'But there are no major suprises on the design, ' Wolstenhome says. 'We have pretty much been given permission to build what we asked for.'

With luck and a fair wind, work on site should start in the autumn. It will be the beginning of BAA's biggest construction campaign.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.