They won't have to move a mountain to build the grand new Terminal 5 at Heathrow but they did move two rivers, the Duke of Northumberland and Longford, from under the existing airfield and the middle of the T5 construction site. The diversion of the rivers into two new channels will allow the site to be surveyed by archaeologists as the construction teams move forward.

Moving the rivers was quite a feat, but so too will be the move by British Airways, the tenant for T5 when it opens for business in March 2008. For more than a year, BA has fielded a team to plan for the move, think of the smallest details and ensure that the operation will run smoothly from day one. "We've been at a disadvantage for almost 25 years now since British Airways was formed," says Phil Hogg, who is leading the team. "It's been a challenge. Most of our competitors have a single terminal."

Plans for the new terminal were approved by the government in 2001 following nearly four years of review and discussion. Designed by Richard Rogers Partnership and being built by BAA, it boasts a dramatic soaring ceiling that will flood it with light.

The T5 project is costing £4.2 billion, with BA's share at £350 million. Billed as one of the largest construction projects in Europe, it includes 47 aircraft stands, two satellite buildings, a new control tower, a spur roadway off the M25, more than 13.5 km. of bored tunnels and rail links to extend the Heathrow Express and Piccadilly Line services, a 4,000-space garage and a hotel. Officials say it thus far is on schedule for its targeted 2008 opening date.

"The Wright Brothers could have done their first flight in this building," Hogg points out. "As an airport terminal, it will be stunning. You will have space, you will have light. It will be a very busy facility. It will move 30 million passengers a year."

The big move is expected to take place over a period of a month shortly before the official opening and is likely to be carried out in four stages. "We recognized it was a better proposition to the airport as a whole to do it in a single move. It's relatively easy to move furniture," Hogg says. "The lounges and the check-in areas will have new furniture. The self-service kiosks are probably in line for replacement."

Before T5 becomes operational, there will be a series of dress rehearsals to ensure that all of the systems are working. "We will start with a trial operation with maybe 100 passengers for a simple check-in process," says David Lawrence, a member of Hogg's team. "We will work with complex scenarios-people without documentation or people trying to dodge security. We've looked at other airports to understand what they've done."

The primary reason for the move is to allow BA to consolidate its operations, staff and resources in a single terminal. It also will enable passengers to connect directly to another BA flight rather than traipsing to another terminal as many have to do now.

T5 is designed to move passengers quickly from the entrance to check-in and through security. There will be ample space for self-service kiosks, Hogg points out. "What we are determined to do is minimize queuing in the departures hall. It is fundamental to get people through the process as quickly as possible." There will no baggage screening machines in the departure area; checked bags will be sent to the level below where they will be scanned and routed to their destinations.

BA expects to rely heavily on its self-service kiosks that have been in use for some time in its other terminals. Hogg believes it would have been difficult to introduce new technology at the opening of a new facility: "We are not going to use Terminal 5 as a catalyst to introduce this when we are moving into a brand-new facility. You minimize the risk. You try to accomplish whatever you can before the move."

BA expects to operate some 75 intercontinental and more than 200 short-haul flights daily out of the new terminal. It has not been decided if another carrier, presumably a fellow member of the oneworld alliance, will share space in the facility. "We have to plan carefully," says Hogg. "The priority is to give BA a single base of operation. Three terminals to one-it will enable some growth but we are focused on efficiency and we're very focused on the experience we give our passengers." The airline can't increase the number of flights unless it obtains more slots or until a third runway is added, and that is not likely to happen until after 2015.

In addition to the usual passenger amenities, T5 will include services for the people who work there, such as shops and banking. For the first time, cabin crew and flight operations will be able to report directly to the terminal rather than to an office building on the Heathrow perimeter, says Hogg. Customer service, engineering and ground staff also will be stationed at T5. Around 20,000 BA employees working various shifts will be assigned there and on any given day some 6,000 employees will be working in the building. Even so, the company plans to keep offices to a minimum to optimize space and some workers are likely to share facilities with their colleagues.

So far there has been no single issue or problem that has kept Hogg awake at night. He attributes this to planning and more planning. "We have a lot of lists. We have a very clear program structure," he says. The work is broken down among individual teams to oversee planning for customer service, aircraft handling, staffing and construction. "We are set. Any program needs to be like that. We are creating tomorrow, we're designing tomorrow and we're developing tomorrow, and at some stage tomorrow becomes today. That operational readiness is critical to the move."