BAA chief executive 'sorry' for Heathrow's T5 fiasco

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Indy Politics

The man in charge of Britain's airports told MPs yesterday that he did not know in advance there were likely to be problems with the opening of Heathrow's new Terminal 5.

Colin Matthews, the BAA chief executive, also told the Commons Transport Committee that 17 of the 200 lifts in the £4.3bn building were still not working – five weeks after its chaotic opening. He apologised "unreservedly" for the problems, admitting that BAA was to blame for some of them.

He said BAA had not yet investigated "who knew what or when" in advance about the likely difficulties the terminal might face. T5, opened by the Queen on 27 March, had a disastrous first day, with dozens of flights delayed, a huge baggage backlog and long queues.

It was days before British Airways – T5's only occupant – was able to run a full service. BA is counting on the new terminal to ease overcrowding at Europe's busiest airport – but has postponed the transfer of its long-haul flights to T5 until June.

Mr Matthews insisted the baggage problems had been overcome and T5 was now running smoothly. He said: "We have not sought to blame others. Some of the problems were undoubtedly our fault and some were not. With the benefit of hindsight, there were aspects that were not ready."

But committee members were far from satisfied. Eric Marlew, the Labour MP for Carlisle, accused BAA of being "complacent" and said the fiasco had "made a fool out of the country".

BAA's chairman, Sir Nigel Rudd, also told the committee he was "bitterly disappointed" with the opening.

He said: "It is clearly a huge embarrassment to the company, me personally and the board. Nothing can take away that failure. We all believed genuinely that it would be a great opening, which clearly it wasn't."