When Terminal 5 got the go ahead in 2001, after a nearly four-year long public inquiry, one of the national newspapers asked whether it was not already out of date.
It was not such an odd question for a project which had already been years in gestation and which would demand another seven years to completion. After all, the aviation industry and the airports that serve it are fast changing and constantly updating.
But as the gleaming steel and glass multi-storey T5 opens today at Heathrow airport, client BAA can safely answer that it will be as state-of-the-art as it is possible to be. Its design was updated and refined throughout until the very end of -construction.
“There always comes a point where you have to stop changing things,” says John Milford, who has been BAA’s head of building since May 2004, in charge of the overall interior construction and fit out for the main building and its smaller sister satellite building. “It is like buying a computer - there is an upgraded model coming out but you have to decide to go with something eventually.”
Setting that point as late as possible for the various users and service providers in the terminal has been a crucial challenge in the seven year construction programme. The aim is embedded in the management terminology as ‘progressive fixity’ and ‘last responsible moment’, which mean a phased programme of decisions to keep flexibility in the design for as long as -possible, while always being aware of the consequences of leaving things too late.
On the largest scale the principle is embedded in the main structure of the enormous 43 m high building - the dramatic swooping curved roof, which gives the terminal its impressive open departure floor at the top. The 400 m long and 176 m wide roof is structurally completely separate from the five-floor building it encloses. Together with the faŤade it could be designed and built well in advance of the interior which could therefore be changed and modified as it followed on.
But that interior involved thousands more such decisions on a smaller scale.
And it is not the whole scheme. The Ł4.3 billion Terminal 5 is less an additional terminal than a completely new airport at the other end of the airfield which happens to share the runways.
Beyond the main building there is a smaller satellite building, which alone is bigger than Terminal 4.
There are landside road links to the M25 and a main 3,800 space car park, all major schemes in themselves. Airside has all the external structures, taxi-ways and stands for handling, parking, fuelling and servicing aircraft and linking to the runways.
A major tunnelling project
Finally below ground there is another set of major projects for a network of communications links, including tunnels for the Piccadilly Line, the extension of the Heathrow Express rail service and for a people shuttle between the terminal buildings. A major road tunnel underneath the airport links technical staff and passenger buses from the existing terminals to the new complex. Finally there is a new water tunnel, bringing the total length of tunnelling to 13.5 km.
“The scheme breaks down into 16 major interlocking projects,” says Mr Milford. “That in turn splits into 147 sub projects.” Keeping to a plan on such a giant scheme would be difficult at the best of times on a project with even a relatively fixed design.
The difficulties are increased by the multiple users that must be satisfied for the scheme. BAA may be client but it is trying to service the needs of the airlines, in this case British Airways, which is moving virtually all of its operations into the new building. Any airport also has customs authorities, immigration control, and increasingly to the fore, enhanced security systems.
There are also multiple retail outlets, restaurants and bars, and even entertainment. More stakeholders are involved too, including a variety of service providers in the operational terminal, from communications and complex computer systems to plumbing, electricians and maintenance and even the cleaners who need their own access and facilities.
“And there is the baggage handling too,” adds Phil Wilbraham, the T5 design development, engineering and infrastructure leader. It is a vast automated system in itself and occupies 30 per cent of the space. “You could say the rest of the building is wrapped around it,” he says.
The interactions between all of these, all seeking updates and changes which might impact on the others, increase the complexity of the scheme. Given the history of major projects, typically late and over budget in the UK and elsewhere too, it did not bode well.
A new approach to risk
“Delay would not just mean being late,” says John Milford, “but it would carry enormous financial, legal and even political implications.
The airlines and especially British Airways have all committed their ticketing, set departure points, leased planes,” he says. BAA itself has essentially ‘bet the farm’ on the project since it is costing almost as much as the company’s own capitalised value.
BAA decided it would have to have a completely new approach. Risk in a scheme like this was unavoidable and even if handed off could well come back to bite, rather as the collapse of the Heathrow Express tunnel had done some time previously. Rather than try pass it on in traditional contracts, only to have to negotiate constant changes, BAA decided to deal with it directly.
A first step was that it would be very hands on, an ‘expert’ client that took a proactive involvement in the project. Its own team of engineers and architects would work on the design brief to continuously update requirements as changes arose. They would work alongside design teams and construction contractors in a constant two-way interaction.
But that would not be enough. So BAA applied the then newly emerging Egan and Latham principles of partnering and industry cooperation to an unprecedented extent, taking further the experience already made on framework agreements at its airports.
The ‘T5 Agreement’ was developed, a new form of contracting with a completely different legal structure and most of all completely different working practices. Instead of tendering and winning contracts, suppliers - from consultancies to materials companies - were taken on board as partners without risk, based on past knowledge and experience. Insurance cover for matters like professional indemnity, and public liability, were covered by BAA.
The arrangements allowed for these major ‘primary’ suppliers - more than 45 of them - to be cost reimbursed. “That does not mean an open chequebook,” Mr Milford hastens to point out. Instead, detailed benchmarking of all sectors of the industry was carried out for BAA by cost consultants such as EC Harris.
Suppliers would also have to open their books, excluding some confidential business information, but allowing cost and time data to be integrated into BAA’s management system.
Best practice the minimum
Neither did it mean standard performance. The quid pro quo was that BAA could demand higher standards than normal, a minimum set as best practice and the exceptional to be pushed for, rewarded with additional payments when achieved and with a cost or time savings split between the client and the supplier.
But BAA wanted far more from the agreement. The aim was a kind of super-partnering, drawing those who came to work on the project into a common team. That meant co-location and side-by-side working but also delegation of tasks that went beyond their own normal remit.
“People were not thinking about their own companies and liabilities therefore, but on what was right for the project or the part of the project they were involved in,” says Dervilla Mitchell from Arup, who led the design team for one of the major project elements at the beginning - the huge free-spanning roof and faŤade for the main terminal.
The team approach had major advantages she says. On the roof design and erection procedure for example, the involvement of all the major suppliers and contractors from the beginning meant that it took into account the needs and capacities of each. Buildability issues were worked through such as the limitations or possibilities of fabrication.
That would work backwards too, perhaps drawing out different ways of doing the factory work, or the delivery. The aim was always to get extra performance. In many cases it was also passed on down the supply chain by the major players to their own secondary supply.
“The focus is not contractual necessity but what is the right solution,” says Mr Milford.
For the roof it meant that a huge number of potential difficulties in the erection stage were worked through says Ms Mitchell. For example, the design was able to allow for the fact that some of the bolting of box steel sections had to be done from inside, with the space made sufficient for a worker to be there with reasonable comfort to tighten over 200 bolts for each connection.
Surfaces were machined smooth where they had to be slotted into position. On some huge beams a 50 mm-thick plate for an end joint was even given a very slight curve so that as the crane manoeuvred it, it would slide easily into its slot.
“On the day the banksman barely had to look at it,” says Ms Mitchell. Such detail was good for avoiding site compromise solutions and for safety and speed she says.
Teams were also fluid she adds, shifting as the project moved on - the roof team leadership moved to the contractors as construction began to give site priorities greater emphasis. She herself moved on to look at design process and CAD process as the terminal moved into the interior stages.
A flexible methodology
“It was a loose organisational structure in that sense, allowing changes as the project changed. You tended to be valued for your own individual capacities rather than what you contributed for your company.”
The other side of flexibility was to allow a strong lead to be taken by BAA management. In its most abstract form this was to set a tone for the project. It emphasised excellence, safety and quality and was backed by a major campaign to instil pride in the project for all the 60,000 workers who came on the project.
Mr Milford says he was impressed by BAA’s ability to present its target of “the world’s most successful airport development”, and communicate it at all levels of involvement.
But common direction took much more practical forms. One major example is the single entrance policy for the site. Such a huge area - as big as Hyde Park - would normally have several access points with suppliers arriving as they needed to.
But T5 sits between two operating runways on one of the world’s busiest airports and keeping control was vital. Single access was good for safety too, and security, but it also imposed a discipline on deliveries and arrivals. “They were all pre-planned and booked, and you had to think ahead,” says Ms Mitchell.
The pre-organisation attitudes also spilled over into other work she thinks. To help all this BAA embraced a new technique of ‘logistics centres’ which was emerging from Scandinavia. These were off-site drop-off points for the many materials and supply deliveries that came at times suitable for traffic or factory output.
T5 had two, with covered warehouse and yard space, where supplies could be stored, divided up and scheduled for delivery by the centre’s own vehicles. Materials were only brought to site as needed and could be prepared beforehand, in the right quantities and with packaging removed. On-site waste was reduced and the just-in-time delivery optimised limited on-site storage.
The single entrance discipline also helped push suppliers and design towards easily delivered modules and prefabricated units, which helped achieve factory based production on a much larger scale, helping both the safety and quality ambitions of the project.
The strong lead from BAA has also allowed the project to tap into advanced technology says Mr Milford, particularly taking advantage of the latest software tools which he firmly believes in.
The whole scheme has been built around a three dimensional ‘single model environment’ for example, commonplace in his own field of process engineering, but fairly unusual in construction when the scheme began. But it allows a completely central tracking of the design and its changes, with all the suppliers tapping into the same information. Changes made are reflected immediately, so that the impact on all the other project elements could be spotted.
Navisworks software was used with it for spotting clashes and overlaps.
“Some of the engineers were still used to 2-D drawing at the beginning” says Phil Wilbraham, BAA’s project leader for the main terminal, “but they got used to working in 3-D and now would not go back.”
A second major tool installed early on, and critical for Mr Milford, is Artemis. It keeps track of cost and time, drawing together data from the project and from the main primary suppliers. Key indicators allowed managers to pinpoint areas needing attention. Central are the schedule performance index and the cost performance index.
“These have a numerical value. If they stay above 1.0 you are OK,” says Mr Milford.
He says that schedule had to be the overriding concern of the project. “Cost is there, safety is there and other factors, but schedule is king. Keeping to schedule is what drives a project along.”
A key leadership tool was setting major milestones for the project, some 80 significant ones in all. “It is important on a big project that people have big objectives that they can work to,” believes Ms Mitchell, “and BAA was very good at determining those.”
That got much more difficult as the project moved from the civils and structural work with a few big contractors to the many dozens of suppliers working on the interiors, the M&E and building fit-out.
The need for design flexibility meant scheduling was always being done on shifting sand.
“What is required is process mapping to analyse carefully what follows from what,” explains Mr Wilbraham. “It can be immensely complex once you are inside the building and there are alterations being made all the time. If a restaurant space has to be bigger, this impacts on the washroom space nearby. It affects ventilation needs, electrical demand and so forth.
“We were also trying to do more by understanding the route from one thing to another to pin down working clashes and to see when was the ‘last responsible moment’. That was tied to a so-called
‘D-Day’, the point at which design had to start being turned into construction. All of it was a big game of 3-D chess,” he says.
Almost overwhelmingly so says Mr Milford, who was brought onto the project just as the interior was stepping up.
“In early 2005 we had to move from spending the some £35 million a month to spending £50 million every month.” It was a giant step change involving many more people than before working on multiple systems and smaller sections of the building, and like a nervous horse at a fence there was hesitation.
The important thing was to establish a common purpose, integration of effort and above all trust he says. To do it he thought a transformation in attitudes was needed, especially to realise the full benefits of the T5 agreement.
“We decided to invite all the key managers and supervisors, around 120 in all, onto an executive retreat programme,” he says. This was a three-and-a- half day intensive course run by Austrian management consultant Walleczek & Partners, focusing on so-called ‘non-linear’ management principles.
The programme stretched people’s understanding of their relationships, capacities and responsibilities he says, which was carried out into wider parts of the organisation. He believes the impact to have been crucial in moving the project forward.
But so too was his experience from process engineering. “In many ways it is like a plant,” he says, “integrating many systems to ensure a flow. Humans are a lot more complex than liquids of course, but there are similarities.”
Critical issues now were tracking all the interactions between some 45 major suppliers, both for design and installation and then in the process of commissioning systems and buildings.
New tools were added to the armoury including various databases like Complan to monitor commissioning and an equally important one to control snag detection and fixing.
Managing all of this has not been easy and the project only just came in under the wire. At the project start the timetable included a six-month post-commission period set aside within the eight year programme for dress rehearsals and trial runs of the main systems. But last minute bits and pieces of construction, making good and tidying up, have spilled over.
Even so, the gigantic automated baggage handling system has been trialled, fire alarms, security systems and communications have been put through their paces and volunteers have been testing how well the departures and arrivals layouts are working, for last-minute fine adjustment.
The massive five-storey terminal building and its smaller sister satellite nearby have been steadily taking on live status, with British Airways moving its main operational centre here after New Year.
It hit the biggest milestone of all - the 30 March completion deadline - three days early.
Architect Richard Rogers’ design for the building incorporates what BAA calls ‘wow’ factors, to take the breath away. The huge open departure floor at the top is one with its dramatic swooping roof. So are the 30 m long bridge crossings five storeys up between the car park concourse and the main building, and the stunning airside views across the runways through multistorey glass facade.
But completion of the building is a wow factor too for those who did it.
“This has bred a new culture”
By Shaun Cowlam
From the outset it was recognised that the scale and complexity, and the very tight time deadlines that we had to work under, would require a different culture and a different way of managing risk.
The T5 Agreement has allowed us to take a collaborative view, working with very integrated project teams, where we – BAA and our suppliers – work together creatively, allowing and encouraging innovation and all recognising that we’re in this together so success is success for us all.
Certainly this has bred a new culture where achieving a task and a job is more important than taking a fairly narrow, selfish commercial viewpoint.
I think that has allowed people to focus on constructing the project on time, keeping within budget, and not necessarily rushing away to lawyers if there’s a problem. Because BAA manage and own all the risk this has taken the risk away from all our suppliers. That allows us to get to a number of problems very quickly and to resolve them without any bickering between us or the supply base.
You only have to look around other parts of the construction industry where delays and other cost escalations are not uncommon to see how successful we’ve been.
What we’ve managed to do here is focus people in a positive way where actually coming in on time and on budget is a given, and we actually expect much better than that.
Shaun Cowlam, BAA’s head of site & logistics, on the T5 Agreement