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MPs decry Heathrow T5 fiasco

'National embarrassment', says Transport Committee

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The House of Commons Transport Committee has described the anarchic opening of Heathrow's Terminal Five as a "national embarrassment" which showed "serious failings on the part of both BAA and British Airways".

The committee's report into the 27 March fiasco, which saw 36,584 passengers affected by a series of shortcomings in the "baggage system, car parking, security searches and aspects of the building itself" and 23,205 bags reduced to manual sorting, concludes that the blame lay mostly in "insufficient communication" between BAA and BA.

The scale of the collapse of the baggage handling system has now become the stuff of epic fail lore. The report notes that it was "designed by Vanderlande Industries of the Netherlands in conjunction with IBM technology and Alstec, which operates the system", and contains "no unproven technology" although "the scale of the system at T5 is greater than anywhere else in the world".

While the committee concedes that other airport terminals worldwide have suffered similar opening day blues, it notes that two weeks before the T5 inauguration, BAA's strategy director Mike Forster declared: "We have a world-class baggage system that is going to work perfectly on day one."

BAA and BA were on 7 May hauled before MPs to explain what had gone wrong, but the committee says that during this first evidence session "representatives from BAA were unhelpful and ill-prepared" and "provided us with no satisfactory explanation as to how this national embarrassment had been allowed to unfold".

The committee concluded that "the programme of training for many workers had been inadequate" and that while pre-opening proving trials "may have succeeded in identifying improvements and enabling members of the public to experience the new terminal... they failed in the ultimate objective of getting the system to a point where it worked well enough to cope with the opening successfully".

BA conceded that its staff training "had not been sufficiently thorough" and admitted it "should not have absorbed the continuing building delays by compromising the time needed to complete the full testing and familiarisation process as planned".

BAA said of the baggage-handling disaster: "It may have been that the baggage we were testing was too uniform. Maybe the reality of the baggage that people put into the system was more diverse than our tests represented."

The report concludes: "The opening of Terminal 5 revealed serious failings on the part of both BAA and British Airways. Like both organisations, we acknowledge the inevitability of 'teething problems' but deeply regret that so many were allowed to bring the operation of Heathrow's newest terminal to a halt." ®

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