Friday, April 30

Modern Travel

So I am greeted at Heathrow Terminal 5 ... by this. How Space 1999. The Jr. Varsity knows that T5 is only for British Airways. More expert travellers will tell you that it is the largest free-standing building in the UK and is as big as 50 football pitches or Hyde Park. There is enough glass to stretch between T5 and Buckingham Palace. The roof can be raised to add another layer in the future. There are already seven floors: four above the ground and three below. The depth to the bottom of the building is deeper than the height of St Paul's Cathedral.

During construction, two rivers were diverted around the T5 site. Fish and other water creatures were moved before the diversion, and new channels were made habitable for wildlife. This is probably better than the villagers of Sipson, whose 700 homes may one day be demolished for the third runway. But that is next year's story. There are 11 miles of baggage conveyor belts and baggage can travel at up to 30mph. Since this is Britain, the UK's single biggest dig unearthed >80,000 items including pots, cups, buckets, flints and 3,000BC hand axe. Dude.

T5 was designed by Sir Richard Rogers and capable of 'processing' 30 million people including yours truly. Heathrow's existing two runways are at 98% capacity or around 67 million passengers a year - making us the busiest airport in Europe and the third most visited in the world. Paris CDG, by contrast, is at <70%>annum. Will there be a third runway and T6? It depends on the May 7 elections. Labour has approved the expansion despite the European Union's objection that a third-runway violates the human rights of those relocated or under the flight-path; the Tories oppose it. In the end, it may come down to economics: Heathrow employs 50,000 people and many more indirectly. It is a critical piece of the Southeast's economic engine and enhances London's status as a key gateway city. Not insignificantly, 20 years and several £billions have gone into planning consulting. By chance, I met the head of McKinsey & Company's global transportation practice at an Obama fundraiser who advises British government on Heathrow - he said the third runway "no way" and rather we should distribute the network across existing Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton with hi-speed rail. I would too. But: nobody wants to inter-connect those long-haul flights. Why that when Schiphol?