Sometime next spring Heathrow's most illustrious neighbour will come down from her eyrie overlooking the world's number one international airport and officially declare Heathrow Terminal 5 open.
Her Majesty the Queen, as Princess Elizabeth, was in residence at Windsor Castle well before the airport was even thought of and her views of its dramatic growth are not known. Unless of course she puts a comment into her speech at the ceremony. Her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, a total aviation man, probably has his views too!
Terminal 5 represents the 21st century Heathrow and, as BAA is proud to point out, ”built on time and on budget.” When it opens for business on Thursday 27 March with a British Airways 747 inbound from Hong Kong it will be the most modern air terminal on the planet with a maximum capacity of 30m passengers a year, making it singularly Britain's largest airport.
To put the whole thing in perspective, the T5 site covers the area of Hyde Park and will have no less than 120 retail outlets, a 12,000 space multi-storey car park and a 600-guestroom hotel (Sofitel). There is also a - mile long airside road tunnel, which links the complex to T3 and will be used for all airside operations.
One great benefit to all Heathrow users, staff and passengers, will be the reduction of road traffic to and from the central area and T4. This could be up to 40% and takes away the argument for another stealth tax by charging for car access. Access to T5 will be via a spur road from the M25 about halfway between the existing M40 and before J14. Non Motorway traffic is via the perimeter road. Arriving at the Welcome Roundabout drivers will be directed up an impressive ramp roadway before peeling off for the parking area and arrivals, or up to the top and departures.
It is then across one of four sky bridges and into the departures hall. For pre-checked in passengers with only hand luggage (a single piece please note) there is a choice of north or south security areas, BAA emphasising that they are doing everything possible to speed up this most wearisome of processes.
Deep underground T5 has is own dedicated railway station with six platforms, two for the Heathrow Express, two for the Piccadilly Line and two which are built and safeguarded in advance of a project to link Heathrow by rail to the west, a scheme currently under consideration would connect to the main line at Staines and also serve as an alternative London routing, possibly using the about-to-be redundant Eurostar station at Waterloo.
Heathrow Terminal 5 will be the exclusive home of British Airways (although some flights are expected to continue from T3) and is two buildings, with a third to follow in 2010. T5A, the main structure will open first and will be the home for most European flights. Linked to the main building by an underground people mover T5B is essentially for long haul services and is planned to be operational one month after the main terminal.
British Airways is moving towards 80% of passengers using online check-in or a self-service kiosk when they arrive at the terminal. The latest technology is also being applied to fast bag drop facilities. There will be 96 self-service kiosks and 140 customer service desks, plus 96 fast bag drops. Passenger flows have been extensively modelled to ensure there is minimal queuing at every stage.
An intensive six-month period of proving trials will begin in September this year, when over 16,000 people will be recruited to act as passengers and thoroughly test every aspect of the building including car parking, check-in, baggage systems, IT systems and security.
”London is a world city, a global financial centre and needs a world class airport,” said BAA Heathrow chief executive officer Tony Douglas.
”T5 is already a testament to the skill and hard work of the thousands of people, including architects, planners, construction workers, airport and airline staff, who have together made the building happen. With just 366 days to go there is still much to do, but we're confident we are on track to deliver a world-class experience that Heathrow's passengers deserve.
”68m passengers will fly through Heathrow this year in aging terminal facilities designed to accommodate around 45m. When T5 opens and 30m passengers move out of existing terminals, for the first time we will have space to breath in the central terminal area and have a once in a lifetime opportunity to redevelop the rest of the airport and bring it up to a comparable standard to T5.
”By 2012, we aim to have either re-built or redeveloped our existing facilities and returned Heathrow to its rightful status as the world's leading international airport. We will be proud to welcome the world's Olympians through our gates.”
Passengers flying into Heathrow are going to be impressed with T5. They should also be able to see, in the far distance, the Wembley arch. Inbound from the east their flight path would have taken them over the Thames and central London. The UK is far from perfect, political correctness seems to rule the day, but if our Victorian forefathers can view us from above surely they would be stunned by the achievements of the 21st century. Roll on the Olympics.