1. BAA opened Heathrow's fifth terminal for business
on 27 March, after six years of construction at a cost of £4.3bn,
on time and within budget. Passengers had been promised a "calmer,
smoother, simpler airport experience".
Multiple problems, however, meant that on the first day of operation
alone, 36,584 passengers were frustrated by the 'Heathrow hassle'
that Terminal 5 (T5) had been designed to eliminate.
What should have been an occasion of national pride was in fact
an occasion of national embarrassment. Problems were experienced
with the baggage system, car parking, security searches and aspects
of the building itself. When the baggage system failed, luggage
piled up to such an extent that it was transported by road to
be sorted off-site. According to British Airways, 23,205 bags
required manual sorting before being returned to their owners.
We found that most of these problems were caused by one of two
main factors: insufficient communication between owner and operator,
and poor staff training and system testing. Over the course of
our inquiry, we were pleased to find that steps were being taken
at all levels to address the problems at the source of T5's problems.
2. During questions following a statement to
the House on 31 March 2008 on T5 by the Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick),
the then Chairman of the Committee, the late Gwyneth Dunwoody,
"Will the Minister press both BAA and BA to
answer some simple questions? How much training was given to baggage
handlers? What facilities were available for people to get to
work efficiently and on time? What is the real timetable for putting
things back into operation after these disasters? If we do not
have the answers to those questions soon, not only will the problem
continue but it will continue to make Heathrow a disaster area."
3. The Minister commented that "my hon.
Friend and her Committee will take a keen interest in these matters".
We invited BAA, British Airways and Unite to explain what happened
before, during and after the opening of Heathrow's fifth terminal.
During our first session on 7 May, we took evidence from BAA and
British Airways. Representatives from BAA were unable to answer
many of our questions, but committed themselves to providing a
supplementary memorandum and appearing again if we had further
questions. They did so on 9 July, when representatives from Unite
gave the perspective of the many workers who bore the brunt of
the public frustration, and those who struggled behind the scenes.
Between evidence sessions, we visited T5 to see for ourselves
where things went wrong and what British Airways and BAA had done
to address the problems. We
were concerned that during our first evidence session, representatives
from BAA were unhelpful and ill-prepared. They provided us with
no satisfactory explanation as to how this national embarrassment
had been allowed to unfold.
4. In The future
of BAA, we concluded that "serious
questions [have been] raised over mismanagement of resources and
failure to plan adequately for contingencies which were far from
unexpected, let alone inconceivable [
] [BAA] should have
predicted the predictable, and planned accordingly".
In our 2007 report on Passengers' Experiences of Air Travel,
we noted that "lost and mishandled baggage is one of the
biggest areas of complaint for air passengers".
British Airways has the sole use of T5, and in 2007, 26.5 of every
1,000 bags it handled were subject to delay, according to the
Association of European Airlines.
This was the second-worst performance of the AEA's twenty-six
members. It was hoped that the level of integration offered by
the new system at T5 would change this.
5. The baggage handling system around which T5
is constructed was designed by Vanderlande Industries of the Netherlands
in conjunction with IBM technology and Alstec, which operates
the system. Vanderlande has constructed baggage handling systems
for many of the world's largest hub airports, including Hong Kong
International Airport (1998) and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (2001).
Although the system employs no unproven technology, the scale
of the system at T5 is greater than anywhere else in the world.
6. The opening of a new airport or terminal carries
a significant degree of risk. Many major openings have been affected
by problems such as those experienced at T5. Denver Airport in
particular (1995) experienced serious problems with its baggage
handling system. Kuala Lumpar's airport (1997) and Hong Kong International
(1998) also experienced problems, notably with lack of staff familiarity.
The chances of there being serious disruption when the 'ON' switch
is pressed are undeniable. However, at a press conference held
a fortnight before T5 opened, BAA's strategy director Mike Forster
is quoted as having said "We have a world-class baggage system
that is going to work perfectly on day one".
A full account of what didn't work on day one, and for some time
thereafter, is given in both BAA's and British Airways' written
evidence to the Committee.
7. BAA stated in its written evidence to the
Committee that "the opening of Terminal 5 carried inherent
risks". As we
discovered, several of these inherent risks combined with one
another, resulting in the disruption that occurred at the end
of March. Although there was no ministerial responsibility involved,
we felt it was important to publish a brief summary of the evidence
1 "Final preparations for Terminal 5", British
Airways press release, 18 March 2008 Back
Ev 53 Back
Ev 54 Back
HC Deb 31 March 2008, col 431 Back
Fourth Report of Session 2007-08, The future of BAA, HC
119, para 62 Back
Eighth Report of Session 2006-07, Passengers' Experiences of
Air Travel, HC 435-I, para 121 Back
"AEA consumer report for 4th quarter and annual
2007", Association of European Airlines, files.aea.be/News/PR/Pr08-006.pdf Back
"Terminal 5: Information", BAA, www.baa.com Back
"Unions had warned BA that 'Big Bang' move would cause chaos",
The Times, 29 March 2008, p 36 Back
Ev 43-44; Ev 53-55 Back
Ev 42 Back