MPs brand T5 launch a “national embarrassment”

The House of Commons Transport Committee has branded the chaotic opening of Heathrow Terminal 5 a “national embarrassment.”

It concluded that the problems, which included cancelled flights and thousands of bags going missing, “could and should” have been avoided with better planning.
When the £4.3bn terminal opened on 27 March, most of the problems were down to poor communication between British Airways and BAA, according to the report.

British Airways was also criticised for poor staff-training and system-testing.
The 36,584 passengers who used T5 on the first day faced long queues and had little idea about what was happening.

Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman MP, said: “What should have been an occasion of national pride was in fact an occasion of national embarrassment.”

The report said: “The opening of T5 revealed serious failings on the part of both BAA and BA. 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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“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 BA, 23,205 bags required manual sorting before being returned to their owners,” it added.

BAA’s chairman Sir Nigel Rudd and chief executive Colin Matthews, who appeared before the committee, were criticised for being “unhelpful and ill-prepared” and not being able to provide any “satisfactory explanation” about why the problems had arisen.

The Competition Commission’s provisional report on UK airport ownership, recommended the sale of some of BAA’s seven UK airports, including Gatwick, Heathrow, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The MPs said that the T5 fiasco reinforced the view that BAA is a monopoly that needs to be broken up.

A BAA spokesman said the company had noted the findings. He said lessons had been learned and changes made.  He claimed the airport was now beating many performance targets and was rated highly in satisfaction polls by many of the 11.5m passengers had already passed through.
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