With such a complex organisation as the nation's national airport, BAA CIO Philip Langsdale has a potentially poisoned chalice to deal with in his attempts to improve its IT.
In terms of IT planning, the company takes the long view by operating on five-yearly cycles. Langsdale is nearing the end of the current quinquennium, as they are known at BAA – the next one will start in 2013/14. Over the course of this current cycle, the company has completed a number of big projects at Heathrow, including the opening of Terminal 5 and an ongoing refurbishment of Terminal 2.
Another big project is the improvement of baggage handling at Heathrow, which typifies the colour of the initiatives over the last five years, which have been to simplify and improve the airport’s infrastructure. That should set it up for the next quinquennium, which will focus on integrating a number of applications so that the passenger experience can be further improved.
“We’ve managed to reduce baggage misconnect to about 13 in every 1000,” Langsdale reveals.
“I’m told it will be difficult to get it much below that, because there will always be flights where the bags haven’t been loaded and there’s nothing we can do about that at this end.”
This drive to implement systems and processes that have an impact on passengers’ experiences at the airport will be taken forward into the next five-year cycle in an initiative called Real-Time Heathrow.
Langsdale explains that this will focus on bringing together a number of stakeholders in the hub so that they can react to disruptions and alerts much more quickly and in a much more organised fashion, so that passengers’ progress through the airport is hampered as little as possible.
The stakeholders in this case include the airlines, air traffic controllers NATS and the UK Border Agency.
“We know when a flight takes off from its origin and when it will land at Heathrow. We know how many people are going to be on it, so we should be able to work with the airlines and the UK Border Agency to make sure we have the right resources to handle them when they arrive.”
If the road systems feeding traffic into the airport are clogged up, information could be fed to Heathrow staff so they knew there were going to be a lot of passengers arriving late for their flights and be able to pre-empt that rise in footfall volumes. Being able to micro-schedule the airport using better control systems will improve the customer experience in ways we can all easily imagine: faster queues and fewer flight delays.