Heathrow's new boss face baggage chaos on first day in job

LONDON Tue Jul 1, 2014 6:27am EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - London's Heathrow Airport is working to reunite thousands of bags with their owners after computer failures at its flagship terminal, plunging its new chief executive straight into firefighting mode.

The baggage system went down at Terminal 5, home to British Airways, last Thursday. The intermittent problems continued until Sunday, the airport said, resulting in bags needing to be sorted manually and producing a huge backlog.

Heathrow is the world's third busiest airport, serving 191,200 passengers per day.

"We are on top of the situation," Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye told BBC Radio, speaking on his first day in the top job. "We are working very hard, doing our best to get our bags back to passengers. There are a few thousand that we are going to get on their way today," he said.

The baggage problem brought back memories of the disastrous opening of Terminal 5 in 2008 when hundreds of flights were canceled and thousands of bags were lost.

Terminal 2, a 2.5 billion pound ($4.25 billion) project which was re-opened last week by Queen Elizabeth, has also suffered minor problems with its IT systems.

Two airlines - Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines -said they had delayed their move from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2 after the airport started testing the whole baggage system to find faults.

The problems at Heathrow underline the challenges facing Holland-Kaye, who is having to manage a hub operating at close to full capacity.

He is in the process of lobbying for permission to build a third runway at the airport, which is co-owned by Spanish infrastructure company Ferrovial and other partners, which Holland-Kaye says is needed to stay ahead of rivals like Paris Charles De Gaulle, Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt.

A commission set up by the British government to advise on airport expansion in the south east of England is due to report in 2015, with a third runway at Heathrow singled out as one option.

In order to fund the extension, Holland-Kaye told the Financial Times he wanted to increase landing charges at Heathrow by up to 20 percent, from 20 pounds ($34) per passenger to 24 pounds, to secure a return on the 17 billion pounds ($29 billion) investment that would be needed for a new runway.

($1 = 0.5877 British Pounds)

(Reporting by Paul Sandle Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)

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