Finding New Solutions

In the fast-paced, ever-changing environment of new state-of-the-art airport terminals, VT Airside Solutions lives up to its name.


In 2005, British Airway’s (BA) Terminal 5 (T5) was the largest construction project in Europe and is now the largest single-span building in Britain. Taking a total of six years to build, T5 covers 50 football fields, has 11 miles of baggage conveyor belt systems, operates 60 gates and boasts a 35-million-passenger capability, taking Heathrow’s capacity to nearly 90 million passengers a year.

A Lot to Handle
Handling millions of passengers a year requires the provision of a cost-effective, efficient and comprehensive scope of critical services; this has presented significant challenges for VT Critical Services airside business (VT), now in its sixth year of a 10-year full-risk service contract with BA. “Terminal 5 will transform the flying experience for the millions of British Airways’ customers who pass through Heathrow each year,” Gordon Reynolds, VT airside director, says. “The new experience will be faster, smoother and simpler. Ground support services will play a crucial role in ensuring we take full advantage of our new surroundings and ensure the smooth running of the operation.”

Open for only six months, T5 has presented ground support equipment with a new set of technological and efficiency challenges for BA. VT is meeting these challenges by taking a fresh approach to every piece of equipment through extensive research and design in performance and environmental impact, while obtaining optimal financial value.

The Proper Pedigree
VT’s airside business, which operates out of Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, is a subsidiary of VT Group plc under a subdivision titled Critical Services. The VT Group turns over roughly $1.7 billion (1 billion) per year and — employing 15,000 people globally, with 373 based at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester — 80 percent of the operations are aligned with British Airways. Like many airlines, BA has been outsourcing the GSE maintenance operations for more than a decade, but the fundamentals of the full-risk transfer contract with VT guarantees a fixed price for the maintenance of all equipment, other than inflation, and constant consultation and evaluation through value-added solutions. “It’s a self-sufficient system … we cover a broad spectrum … we do the cradle to grave,” Reynolds says. VT is contracted with BA across all three airports to organize, coordinate and manage their entire ground fleet so they have the equipment they require when they require it.

Previously, BA outsourced to a company that was perceived only as a maintenance company. “There’s a lot of companies that do ground handling maintenance, but it’s the pricing and added-value package combined that’s important,” Steve Cobbold, head of engineering says. “Though we have a 10-year contract, we provide BA with a 20-year maintenance matrix to accommodate all lifecycles and future cost visibility.”

The bedrock principle in partnering with VT was bringing “sufficient pedigree” to the table to assist BA with reaching optimal ground support operations by providing the necessary tools. “Culturally, the airport is very difficult to change,” Reynolds says. “We are contributors in helping BA chip away at what is a much embedded culture. We don’t change their culture; we simply give them more tools and ammunition to change it themselves.”

How the Brits Manage Their “Kit” (equipment)
BA’s operation is so complex that it would never easily facilitate going to a single supplier for the 3,500 hundred “bits of kit” it owns. However, when VT initially partnered with BA they had more than 85 GSE suppliers on their list; that same list has been cut in half and is still shrinking. “We basically tried to identify everyone around the world who is a potential supplier and we got in touch with 250 companies through a very comprehensive survey,” Cobbold says. “We did the research on the types of equipment the company could produce compared to the criteria BA wanted fulfilled and filtered it down to about 40 companies.”

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