Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

Home

www.google.co.uk


Recent Comments


Monthly Archives


Most recent entries


Search


Advanced Search


Other Blogs I write for

Brian Micklethwait's Education Blog

CNE Competition
CNE Intellectual Property
Samizdata
Transport Blog


Blogroll

2 Blowhards
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adloyada
Adventures in Capitalism
Alan Little
Albion's Seedling
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Alex Singleton
AngloAustria
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Biased BBC
Bishop Hill
BLDG BLOG
Bloggers Blog
Blognor Regis
Blowing Smoke
Boatang & Demetriou
Boing Boing
Boris Johnson
Brazen Careerist
Bryan Appleyard
Burning Our Money
Cafe Hayek
Cato@Liberty
Charlie's Diary
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
Chicago Boyz
China Law Blog
Cicero's Songs
City Comforts
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Clay Shirky
Climate Resistance
Climate Skeptic
Coffee & Complexity
Coffee House
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Contra Niche
Contrary Brin
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Скрипучая беседка
CrozierVision
Dave Barry
Davids Medienkritik
David Thompson
Deleted by tomorrow
deputydog
diamond geezer
Dilbert.Blog
Dizzy Thinks
Dodgeblogium
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
dropsafe
Dr Robert Lefever
Dr. Weevil
ecomyths
engadget
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
English Cut
English Russia
EU Referendum
Ezra Levant
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Flickr blog
Freeborn John
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
ft.com/maverecon
Fugitive Ink
Future Perfect
FuturePundit
Gaping Void
Garnerblog
Gates of Vienna
Gizmodo
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
HE&OS
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Ideas
Idiot Toys
IMAO
Indexed
India Uncut
Instapundit
Intermezzo
Jackie Danicki
James Delingpole
James Fallows
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Jihad Watch
Joanne Jacobs
Johan Norberg
John Redwood
Jonathan's Photoblog
Kristine Lowe
Laissez Faire Books
Languagehat
Last of the Few
Lessig Blog
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
Liberty Alone
Liberty Dad - a World Without Dictators
Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
listen missy
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
Londonist
Mad Housewife
Mangan's Miscellany
Marginal Revolution
Mark Wadsworth
Media Influencer
Melanie Phillips
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Michael Jennings
Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
Mick Hartley
More Than Mind Games
mr eugenides
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism
My Boyfriend Is A Twat
My Other Stuff
Natalie Solent
Nation of Shopkeepers
Neatorama
neo-neocon
Never Trust a Hippy
NO2ID NewsBlog
Non Diet Weight Loss
Normblog
Nurses for Reform blog
Obnoxio The Clown
Oddity Central
Oliver Kamm
On an Overgrown Path
One Man & His Blog
Owlthoughts of a peripatetic pedant
Oxford Libertarian Society /blog
Patri's Peripatetic Peregrinations
phosita
Picking Losers
Pigeon Blog
Police Inspector Blog
PooterGeek
Power Line
Private Sector Development blog
Public Interest.co.uk
Publius Pundit
Quotulatiousness
Rachel Lucas
RealClimate
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Rob's Blog
Sandow
Scrappleface
Setting The World To Rights
Shane Greer
Shanghaiist
SimonHewittJones.com The Violin Blog
Sinclair's Musings
Slipped Disc
Sky Watching My World
Social Affairs Unit
Squander Two Blog
Stephen Fry
Stuff White People Like
Stumbling and Mumbling
Style Bubble
Sunset Gun
Survival Arts
Susan Hill
Teblog
Techdirt
Technology Liberation Front
The Adam Smith Institute Blog
The Agitator
The AntRant
The Becker-Posner Blog
The Belgravia Dispatch
The Belmont Club
The Big Blog Company
The Big Picture
the blog of dave cole
The Corridor of Uncertainty (a Cricket blog)
The Croydonian
The Daily Ablution
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Kitchen
The Dissident Frogman
The Distributed Republic
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Examined Life
The Filter^
The Fly Bottle
The Freeway to Serfdom
The Future of Music
The Futurist
The Happiness Project
The Jarndyce Blog
The London Fog
The Long Tail
The Lumber Room
The Online Photographer
The Only Winning Move
The Policeman's Blog
The Road to Surfdom
The Sharpener
The Speculist
The Surfer
The Wedding Photography Blog
The Welfare State We're In
things magazine
TigerHawk
Tim Blair
Tim Harford
Tim Worstall
tomgpalmer.com
tompeters!
Transterrestrial Musings
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
UK Libertarian Party
Unqualified Offerings
Violins and Starships
Virginia Postrel
Vodkapundit
WebUrbanist
we make money not art
What Do I Know?
What's Up With That?
Where the grass is greener
White Sun of the Desert
Why Evolution Is True
Your Freedom and Ours


Websites


Mainstream Media

BBC
Guardian
Economist
Independent
MSNBC
Telegraph
The Sun
This is London
Times


Syndicate

RSS 1.0
RSS 2.0
Atom
Feedburner
Podcasts


Categories

Advertising
Africa
Anglosphere
Architecture
Art
Asia
Atheism
Australasia
Billion Monkeys
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Books
Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Brians
Bridges
Business
Career counselling
Cartoons
Cats and kittens
China
Civil liberties
Classical music
Comedy
Comments
Computer graphics
Cranes
Crime
Current events
Democracy
Design
Digital photographers
Drones
Economics
Education
Emmanuel Todd
Environment
Europe
Expression Engine
Family
Food and drink
France
Friends
Getting old
Globalisation
Healthcare
History
How the mind works
India
Intellectual property
Japan
Kevin Dowd
Language
Latin America
Law
Libertarianism
Links
Literature
London
Media and journalism
Middle East and Islam
Movies
Music
My blog ruins
My photographs
Open Source
Opera
Other creatures
Painting
Photography
Podcasting
Poetry
Politics
Pop music
Propaganda
Quote unquote
Radio
Religion
Roof clutter
Russia
Scaffolding
Science
Science fiction
Sculpture
Signs and notices
Social Media
Society
Software
South America
Space
Sport
Technology
Television
The internet
The Micklethwait Clock
Theatre
This and that
This blog
Transport
Travel
USA
Video
War


Monday March 31 2008

I have the deep joy of having recorded episode one of a Channel 5 TV show called Big, Bigger, Biggest, shown last Tuesday 25th.  It was about ... airport terminals!  And the star of the show was ... Heathrow Terminal 5!  I’ve finally got around to watching it.  Quote of the show so far:

“At Terminal 5, lost bags will be a thing of the past ... or so they hope.”

Heathrow’s T5 is now a mess, but they’ll surely get it approximately sorted in a week or two, and in a few months it will be a memory, unless political moaners like Janet Daley decide to keep it going in order to bash Gordon Brown, which maybe they will.

It occurred to me over the weekend, as the almost unbelievable shambles continued into a fourth day, that Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is really a perfect metaphor for Brownism: enormous amounts of money having been lavished on an over-hyped project which fails spectacularly to provide a workable service.

However, I suspect that there will turn out to be too much private sector involvement to serve this particular purpose, and too much hard work, and, I bet, sheer bad luck.  Will it emerge that some wise souls really did say: “I told them this was going to happen, but they wouldn’t listen”?  Much depends on whether that’s true, and if so, who “they” were, and what was the nature of their folly.

I found another juicey little quote, here:

New airport terminals are usually plagued by faults and problems within the first couple of days of opening. BAA are hoping this will not be the case with T5 ...

To illustrate the wisdom of such a fingers-crossed attitude, let me take you back to that Channel 5 programme.  Here’s more of the commentary:

If the bag handling fails, it could bring down the whole Terminal, as it did in 1993 in Denver. Denver’s brand new airport boasted fully automated bag handling, but the expected triumph turned into a disaster.  Bags kept flying off the conveyors, jamming the tracks.  The airport was unusable for over a year, costing the city a million dollars every day.

Heathrow needs to do better than Denver ...

And the good news is that it surely will.  For this is what Patrick Crozier says about it all, at Transport Blog:

… it appears that what’s happened is that a number of small problems combined to make one big one.  The good news is that most of these are “soft” issues - to do with staffing and training and therefore reasonably easy to sort out - rather than “hard” issues - to do with the infrastructure and computer systems - which would take ages.

Terminal 5 was a massive project brought in on time and on budget.  This says some pretty good things about the people involved.

I suspect Terminal 5 will be working pretty well pretty soon.

A central point here, I suspect, is that big airport terminals are, by their very nature, damn hard to get working exactly right, exactly on time.

They often make use of highly innnovative technology, which is hard to make work perfectly just exactly as soon as the curtain goes up on the first night, so to speak.  This is because, although the cost, in disruption as well as in mere money, of innovation can get very high, the rewards of successful innovation are even vaster, so innovation simply has to be done.  It would cost too much not to.

But, as I say, the costs can be frightful.  Another airport horror story from America concerned, I think it was, LAX, where a radically innovative moving pedestrian walkway seemed splendid, until one day it ate a small child, and had to be entirely rebuilt after months of delay.

That first night has to be decided upon months – years? - in advance, and once decided cannot easily be altered.  The slightest delay costs fortunes.  They test and test, and they try to think of everything that could possibly go wrong, but, as Patrick said, little things that they didn’t see coming trip them up, and sometimes several little things can combine.

I further suspect that there is something inherent in airport terminals that says that they just have to open all at once.  They can’t be slowly or gradually opened, and then brought carefully up to speed.  This can’t be done.  Is that right?  I bet it is.

I’m gratified that Patrick and I came to similar conclusions.  I’d written a lot of this before reading his posting, and would have put this up at Transport Blog, minus Patrick’s words of wisdom, if there’d been nothing there about all this.

Here, however, is a different slant on it all, from the BBC:

By Saturday, BA said it had a backlog of at least 15,000 bags at Heathrow - with one source telling the BBC that the number may have been closer to 20,000.

BA as in British Airways.

BA has already said “teething problems” with car parking, delays in getting staff through security screening and staff familiarisation resulted in the backlog of baggage which led to the severe delays and flight cancellations over the days that followed.

But, according to Mr Bowden, the airline’s bosses had been warned by staff they were not fully prepared for the transition to T5.

“Many areas of BA had told their managers month after month that they were not ready to move in or didn’t feel confident to move in - but there was a general feeling of hubris - ‘Don’t worry, it will be okay on the day’.”

There you go.  “I told you so.” Patrick is right that this will all soon be sorted, but the chaos meanwhile does seem to have been someone’s fault.  Not the fault of the people who supplied the thing, who, as Patrick says, did a fine job, but the fault of the people who were supposed to be in charge of it once it was delivered.  The guy who built the baggage handling system, Iain Bailey of Vanderlande Industries (I know this from the Channel 5 show), was told to make it work for 12,000 items per hour, and he did.  But because BA cocked up the managing of it on the first day, the system was asked to handle more than that.  At which point, just as Iain Bailey of Vanderlande Industries had already predicted, it gave up:

“It’s just like a sponge.  The more you put in, the more it absorbs, but then there’s a point where it can’t soak up any more.”

And that point arrived.

My guess is that BA boss Willie Walsh won’t survive this.  I see that the politicians are already gunning for BA.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.