BRITAIN

New Terminal 2 set to ease overcrowding problems at Britain's Heathrow Airport

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 1:26am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 1:26am
AP

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The rundown, overcrowded Terminal 2 at London's sprawling Heathrow Airport is long gone, about to be replaced by a spacious new building designed to handle 20 million passengers each year.

The new facility was hailed as a cornerstone of Heathrow's revitalisation when shown to reporters yesterday ahead of the June 4 opening.

Lead architect Luis Vidal said its extensive use of natural light and high-quality acoustics should make it a calm space for travellers accustomed to high anxiety at dark, noisy airports.

"If you make it intuitive, pleasant, joyful, you can take away a completely different memory of the terminal," he said. "You can never completely erase your memory of the former Terminal 2, because it was a dreadful experience."

Part of the rebranding strategy calls for the new Terminal 2 to be known as "The Queen's Terminal". The plan has Queen Elizabeth's blessing - and she plans to officially open the facility, just as she did when the original Terminal 2 opened in 1955.

Filling the entrance to the new terminal stretches artist Richard Wilson's latest work, Slipstream, a monumental feat that has been showered with superlatives before it has even opened. It is the longest piece of permanent art as well as the largest privately funded sculpture in Europe, stretching to 80 metres and weighing 77 tonnes.

The £2.5 billion (HK$32.6 billion) building, in conjunction with the relatively new Terminal 5 that opened in 2008, gives Heathrow two modern terminals. The major construction is part of an £11 billion refurbishment designed to keep Heathrow competitive with other major European hubs including Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris.

It will host 26 airlines, including United, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines and others that are part of the global Star Alliance, and offer flights to 51 destinations.

Planners chastened by the rocky opening of Terminal 5 - when the luggage handling system broke down badly, leaving thousands of passengers without their bags - are planning a "soft" opening of Terminal 2.

Only one flight is planned the first day, so that even if things go awry, the number of people affected will be small. It will take six months to reach full capacity.

Heathrow officials say they are still pushing to build a controversial third runway, which is opposed by London Mayor Boris Johnson and influential environmental groups.

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow's development director, said the completion of the new terminal showed Heathrow had complied with the last Labour government's directive that Heathrow should improve without growing.

"Our challenge now is to make the case to expand," he said, admitting that getting permission would be "politically complex."