How BAA uses IT to find bags and sell an airport

"The role of IT in contingency planning is to make sure that IT is not the weak link... Accept that redundancy and duplication are needed for operational excellence and write the cost of suitable contingency plans into the business case early."

More turbulence ahead

Losing bags, though, is by no means the only challenge facing BAA. The airport operator, along with other companies that rely heavily on consumer spending, is being hit by the economic downturn.

The recession, Langsdale says, has cut passenger traffic by 7.3 per cent, although London's Heathrow has done better, seeing a decline of between three and 3.5 per cent.

However, fewer passengers means a reduced income from landing charges and other fees, and lower revenues for the retail outlets that are so important for environments such as Terminal 5. A study carried out by Santander, the banking group, calculated that Britons now spend 378 million a year at airports, down from 1 billion in September 2007.

Falling revenues will not affect BAA's investment plans, Langsdale says: "We are fully funded... we have 5 billion of regulated investment we have to deliver on", but it does force BAA to focus on value."

"We have to be able to respond to that. We have to deliver improved value to our main customers, the airlines. We have to look at ways that we can improve the way we use our infrastructure to benefit BAA, BA and our other customers."

Part of this is being done by reducing costs, but Langsdale is also anxious to simplify IT operations, not just to reduce expenses but also to improve reliability.

"We have a choice: whether to go for an open standard, or to adopt a single stack approach, probably Microsoft. It is very tempting to go for the latter the former needs a lot of capabilities in house but you have to weigh up the downsides of a single stack vendor against the advantages."