Heathrow: 'Soft Opening' For T2

4 June 2014, 06:00

Heathrow bosses are hoping that a "soft'' opening of the new £2.5 billion Terminal 2 (T2) means there will be no repeat of the myriad mishaps which marred the west London airport's Terminal 5 (T5) launch six years ago.

T2 opens on Wednesday with the first flight - a United Airlines service from Chicago - due to land just before 6am.

But, mindful of the T5 debacle in March 2008, Heathrow development director John Holland-Kaye and his team have decided to open T2 in stages.

To start with, United will be the only carrier operating the new terminal and, for the first few days, T2 will only operate at 10% of the capacity it will reach by the autumn.

By October, United will be have been joined by more than 20 other airlines, including Air China, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa. Virgin's domestic operation, Little Red, will also be using the new terminal.

The phased opening is in contrast to the disastrous T5 start-up when the then Heathrow management attempted a near-complete operation from the opening day.

The result was travel chaos, with flights badly delayed, huge queues and thousands of bags going missing.

T2 boasts 60 check-in gates and 66 self-check-in kiosks, 29 security lanes, 33 shops, 17 restaurants, more than 7,000 seats, 634 toilets and 42 water fountains.

By the end of the year T2 will be handling passengers at the rate of 15.8 million annually and it has been built to take up to 20 million.

T2 replaces the old Terminal 2 at Heathrow which closed in 2009 after 54 years of service.

Gavin Hayes, director of the Let Britain Fly campaign, said: "The opening of T2 is a cause for jubilation, demonstrating what can be achieved by private sector funding of nationally-significant infrastructure.

"This follows Gatwick's announcement of large-scale planned improvements to its surface access infrastructure.''

He went on: "But this is just one small step in the right direction. The refurbishing of an existing airport terminal at London's busiest airport does little to relieve the huge pressure on UK aviation capacity.

"Meanwhile, the UK is falling further behind international rivals because industry cannot invest in urgently-needed runways. Only when politicians stop dithering and make a clear decision on the UK's aviation future can the really important work begin.''

There will only be 34 flights on the first day, with T2 coping with just 6,000 passengers.

When fully occupied, T2 will be home to 26 airlines and will have more than 330 flights a day to more than 50 destinations.

Facilities include a John Lewis store and a Heston Blumenthal restaurant.

Heathrow bosses said that they had "sought advice from other airports around the world and learnt lessons from opening T5''.

They went on: "Heathrow is confident but not complacent about the opening. We recognise that there will inevitably be some teething problems in the first few days.

"We will be focused on identifying and resolving issues as quickly as possible to deliver a smooth journey for passengers.''

The caution is in stark contrast with the bullish, overly-optimistic forecasts by management about the T5 opening. After the calamitous first day, two British Airways' chiefs - operations director Gareth Kirkwood and customer services director David Noyes - left the airline.

More than 180 trials for T2 have taken place over the last six months involving 14,000 volunteers. As many as 100,000 bags have already passed through the T2 baggage system, with peak loads tested at 4,000 bags per hour compared with an expected peak of 2,500 bags

Every person working at T2 has been required to participate in familiarisation and training sessions with more than 1,700 sessions taking place.

T2 is officially named Terminal 2 The Queen's Terminal. Heathrow bosses announced on Tuesday that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will officially open T2 on June 23.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: ``T2 is the culmination of an £11 billion investment programme that has transformed Heathrow for passengers. Opening a new terminal is one of the most complex challenges that any airport can undertake.

"Our measure of success is not everything running perfectly on day one - there will inevitably be things we can improve. Our real measure of success is whether T2 comes to be rated by passengers as one of the world's best airport terminals for years to come.''