Thursday, 1 May 2014

We built an airport...

Being involved in international business, I've been through alot of airports in my time. So you might have thought going through an airport without actually going anywhere might not be particularly interesting. However I was given the opportunity to test out Heathrow's new Terminal 2 - The Queen's Terminal as part of their on-going trials before the official opening on 4 June 2014. And given the problems that the Germans are having with Berlin Brandenburg airport, I thought I would take a look around and see how easy, or difficult, such a project can be.

Visitors will be greeted by Richard Wilson's Slipstream,
one of the longest permanent sculptures in Europe.
I went to Heathrow with my partner and a friend yesterday and the three of us got to see the new London home of, amongst others, Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Germanwings. Heathrow organised over 1,300 volunteers on the day to act as departing, transfer and arriving passengers. We got boarding cards, fake identities and were let loose!

The Terminal will serve around 20 million passengers a year and has been built over four years.  In November 2010, the old terminal building was demolished and building work has been undertaken whilst the nearby Terminals 1 and 3 continued to operate.

Terminal 2 Departures
After going through security, we reached a very airy and light Departures Hall.  Heathrow have designed the new Terminal 2 with an aim to be as environmentally responsible as possible and biomass boilers, photovoltaic panels and solar-control glass will regulate the temperature in both winter and summer.

We had the opportunity to go through to a new satellite terminal via an underground connection which, I must admit, was a very long walk.  Even using the Travelators, the journey from the main Terminal to these Gates took around 15 minutes.  It's not all perfect but, overall, both the departure and arrival experience was a good one and I look forward to flying to Germany from Terminal 2.

The Departure Gates in the Satellite Terminal
So this brings me to the comparison with Berlin Brandenburg Airport - the new Airport for the German capital, which is designed to carry about 27 million passengers, which means it's a little bit bigger than T2. Construction started in 2006 and the airport was due to open in 2011 but this, and four other revised opening dates, were missed.  And it probably won't open now for a couple of years.  So what went wrong?

Baggage Reclaim - so much better than the old T2!
There has been alot of debate around the cause or causes of the delay - the fire protection and alarm system failed inspections, the planning buro in charge went into administration and the architects were dismissed.  And a series of personnel changes in the management and supervisory boards have lead to a lack of clarity and direction for the project.  To add to the problems, recent news that the two remaining Berlin airports are now operating at full capacity mean that a new airport is desperately needed but, when it opens, it might be too small.

In my opinion, I think this highlights one of the problems of the way Germans work.  I find they agree alot in advance, usually backed up with lengthy contracts, and so everyone delivers exactly as planned and agreed with the commissioning body.  This may sound efficient and effective but there is little room for cross-party teamwork or flexibility if problems occur during a project.  Heathrow placed a great emphasis on collaboration with and between their contractors during construction and, as a result, they will have a Terminal built on time and on budget - perhaps there is something the Germans can learn from us Brits!

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