As Heathrow’s 50th anniversary celebrations took off, a decision on the
fifth terminal is still up in the air, says Martin Minns, director of
BAA’s celebrations to mark Heathrow’s 50th anniversary were well planned
and orchestrated. The celebrations, based around a visit by the Queen
(24 May) and a fly past of old and new aircraft (2 June), coincided with
a six-part BBC series entitled Airport, a poster design competition
organised by the BBC’s Blue Peter programme and an edition of Songs of
Praise broadcast from the airport. We were being asked to feel good,
even sentimental, about an airport.
The celebrations achieved substantial press and media coverage and
helped to reinforce the message that Heathrow is of great economic
importance, both nationally and locally, and a British success story to
be proud of.
Everything about Heath-row Airport is big. It covers 2,950 acres, it
directly employs 80,000 people, aircraft take off and land every few
seconds to and from 213 destinations in 85 countries, and 54 million
customers (equivalent to the population of the UK) pass through its four
terminals each year.
Estimates are that a further 26 million people each year will want to
use the airport by the end of the decade. BAA therefore, plan to build a
fifth terminal, a model of which was on display to the Queen and all
those attending the weekend celebrations. BAA obviously had at least one
eye on the battle to establish Terminal 5, when planning the 50th
anniversary celebrations, but their argument has only been marginally
addressed by this campaign.
A public inquiry (already in its second year) into the establishment of
a fifth terminal, will inevitably result in media coverage concentrating
to an unequal degree on those, predominantely local people (numbering no
more than a few thousand individuals) who oppose its development.
The rest of us, the millions who pass through Heathrow each year and the
tens of thousands of people, also predominately local to Heathrow, who
depend on the airport for their livelihood, will I suspect, get less of
a mention as the debate develops for and against the new terminal.
In fairness to BAA I am sure that their primary objective was to
celebrate in a public manner the 50th anniversary of the establishment
of Heathrow. In that they have largely succeeded. Their audiences,
national, local and political have been to a large extent addressed by
this campaign. The battle for Terminal 5, however, will be of a
different and it is a struggle which still lies ahead.