They Think it's All Over, it is Now: Heathrow Terminal 5

Tim Brady, Andrew Davies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review


Heralded as the first stage in the regeneration of Heathrow Airport leading up to the 2012 Olympics, the construction of Terminal 5 had bucked the trend. In the world where most mega-infrastructure projects fails, the T5 project was not only on schedule, it was on budget. At its official opening by the Queen two weeks before the first planes and passengers would use the new facility, it was being trumpeted as the 21st century gateway to Britain. Two weeks later Heathrow's owner BAA and British Airways, the occupant of T5, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by scoring a spectacular own goal. What should have been an occasion for celebration turned into a national disaster. Multiple problems emerged on the opening day which resulted in the cancellation of numerous flights and more than twenty thousand bags requiring manual sorting before being returned to their owners. This paper reconsiders the opening of Heathrow's Terminal 5 which was considered by all and sundry to be an unmitigated disaster. It re-examines the problems that occurred on opening day using the reports that appeared in the media in the immediate aftermath and the evidence presented to the House of Commons Transport Committee. The opening disaster seems to fall into the category of as 'normal incident' (Perrow, 1984), but that both BAA and BA suffered from technological hubris (Hughes, 2004) which led them to create unrealistic expectations and ignore the human aspects of the complex system that they were creating.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEURAM 2009
Publication statusPublished - May 2009
EventEURAM 2009 - Liverpool, UK
Duration: 1 May 2009 → …


ConferenceEURAM 2009
Period1/05/09 → …


  • Heathrow Terminal 5 (T5)
  • Megaprojects
  • Project management
  • Complex Product Systems (CoPs)


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