What will it take to make the Heathrow expansion a success?

Recent news reports highlighted great excitement over the government vote of approval to expand Heathrow Airport by adding an additional runway. When completed it will add much needed capacity for both cargo and passengers. More interesting though is that the construction process may just usher in a new way of doing things.

The infrastructure industry has a legacy of poor delivery, undercutting margins and failing to complete projects on time, on budget or even to the right standard. It’s unsustainable – as was highlighted by the collapse of Carillion and the number of main contractors posting major losses on projects this year.

The news headlines alone have made everyone more aware, now more than ever, that low cost tendering is a slippery slope to disaster. Reports are that government role players are now working closely with industry leaders to create more efficient and sustainable ways of managing major infrastructure projects to ensure better delivery.

What will be different about the Heathrow expansion?

There is a massive opportunity for construction leaders to demonstrate that the industry can do better on everything from procurement through to benchmarking performance and maximizing the opportunities digital technology present to operate more efficiently. Already there are initiatives such as Project 13 aimed at achieving this, of which the airport is already a participant. Project 13 proposes an enterprise model that connects all the stakeholders and rewards based on time and cost delivery.

This approach is more collaborative and will require that relationships with suppliers and subcontractors are based on long term, mutually beneficial partnerships. If this can be achieved it promises a better working culture where information is shared with relevant stakeholders and through this, project milestones can be achieved.

Who will step up?

The Heathrow expansion has big shoes to fill if this is the expectation. However, if they do achieve it, it will be an accolade that few other major infrastructure projects worldwide have succeeded in achieving. In the UK Construction industry it is an opportunity to step up and prove that we do have the expertise, technology and management skills in order to successfully implement such a project. Maybe then we finally stop looking over our shoulders at the failures of recent months and look forward to building a more robust industry, invested in technology and sustainability while achieving on time and on budget project delivery.