BAA chiefs expect 'teething problems' at Heathrow Terminal 5 opening

London (Thomson Financial) - BAA bosses have admitted there will be "teething problems" with London Heathrow's new Terminal 5 (T5) when it opens for business later this month.

The 4.3 bln stg facility, which will be officially opened by the Queen later today, opens for business on March 27. However, Ferrovial-owned BAA chiefs have warned the new British Airways-only facility will need a bedding-in period, during which any potential problems can be ironed-out.

"It [T5] won't be fully bedded in until a few weeks after opening," Andrew Wolstenholme, BAA's director of capital projects told a media briefing in London yesterday. "Snags will come out naturally after opening. Until we have a full load in the building, we won't know what teething problems there are but they will iron themselves out naturally. We are confident it will be a clean opening."

Initially, the core building (T5A) and the first satellite pier (T5B) will both be available, with a further satellite pier T5C to come on stream in May 2010. A phased transfer of services will take place and by October some 90 pct of BA's services will operate from T5, with the remainder from T3.

According to BA, T5 A and B will have capacity for 30 mln passengers -- compared to BA's current 23 mln at Heathrow -- and will take the airport's total capacity to 90 mln. Phase 1 of BA's transfer will see the shift of T1 short-haul (excluding 757s), T4 short-haul and T3 Miami into the new terminal. For the following four weeks, BA will be running with half its current operations in the new terminal to help it iron out any potential problems. On April 30 the rest of T4 long-haul (excluding Qantas flights) will transfer across. In June the 757 fleet moves from T1 to T3 and in October they are joined by the remaining services from T4.

BAA has been struggling to recruit security staff for its other terminals at Heathrow and there had been concerns that the airport operator would struggle to man T5 properly. However, the managing director of the airport yesterday moved to allay these fears.

"We have been recruiting to our maximum capacity but it takes time to check-out, hire and train people. It also takes time to get people fully up to speed. There will be 1000 BAA staff at T5, 660 of which will be security staff. There will be a combination of new recruits and staff who have worked at other terminals," Mark Bullock, Heathrow's managing director told reporters.

The project, which has taken five years to build, has undergone extensive trials to ensure that its opening goes as well as possible. The baggage-handling systems, which will be able to process up to 12,000 bags per hour, have been tested on a daily basis and 12,000 volunteers have put the new facility through its paces, according to BAA.

Last month BA was once again named Britain's worst airline for mishandling baggage, and the second worst in Europe. The carrier mishandled 1.14 mln bags in 2007 and only TAP Air Portugal mishandled more, according to the Association of European Airlines.

BA, though, believes T5's 11 baggage reclaim belts, which are capable of processing 12,000 bags per hour and the 3,800 bag capacity early baggage store, will be able to transform its reputation.

"The terminal layout will help our operations and significantly improve our punctuality. The baggage system will help greatly improve our baggage handling and put us on a par with any airline in Europe," said David Noyes, BA's customer services director.

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