Six years after construction started in 2002, Heathrow's Terminal 5 will open this month. The building has been designed around technology, and British Airways hopes innovative use of IT will help lead to a better experience for passengers.
BA and the airport's owner, BAA, have worked together on the project, each developing different systems. None of the technology is new, but the way it is being implemented is unique, according to BA's CIO, Paul Coby.
"Terminal 5 is about putting proven systems and proven processes into a new building. It will be the most technologically advanced airport in the world," he said.
British Airways wants 80% of passengers to check in online or using one of 96 self-service kiosks at the entrance hall of the building. Passengers can check in quickly by leaving their bags in fast bag drops behind the kiosks.Their boarding passes contain a bar code holding information such as which flight the passenger is on, and whether they have enough time to get to the boarding gate.
Domestic and international passengers will share the same departure lounge, raising possible immigration concerns that international passengers could swap boarding cards with domestic passengers and enter the UK without going through immigration.
To avoid this, BAA is using a biometric system developed by Atkins Advantage Software called Pass at the departure gates. Domestic passengers will provide a fingerprint and photo at the security gate. The Pass system will compare the fingerprint at the boarding gate with a record held on the database to ensure it is the same person. BAA says it will hold the biometric data for no more than 24 hours.
BA hopes a system called Trip will improve the number of flights leaving the airport on time. It allows flight dispatchers to record information on a flight, such as its position and destination electronically, using a digital pen to write on plastic "paper". The pen transmits data through the Vodaphone mobile network to a third-party application running on a BA server. The system makes the flight's status available to airport staff, through a web browser interface, on BA PCs. The system is quicker because dispatchers can now do their paperwork on the airfield, instead of having to return to the office.
BA and BAA hope the new baggage system will improve BA's record on losing bags.
The barcode system uses 2D barcodes and scanners can be used to find out where a bag is meant to be going. The main difference with this system, officials say, is that it will now work efficiently. "Before, the technology was crammed into buildings that were too small for it," a BAA spokesman said.