Andy Wolstenholme talks to us through the battle for T5
Andrew Wolstenholme was a tank commander in the army for two-and-a-half years. Add this to his slightly aristocratic accent and continual emphasis on deadlines, and the image emerges of thousands of workers synchronising watches ready for the big show.

Nearly two decades on from the clank of tank-tracks, BAA's construction director still has, so to speak, fragments of parade-ground gravel lodged in his jowls. "There's a lot of relevant experience from my army days," he says, "even though for me it is 15 to 20 years ago. A lot of the skills seem relevant. There are very few professions that at a very young age give you the experience of understanding the capabilities of people."

Understanding, organising, exploiting. Welding a crew of disparate specialists into a crack team. Keeping a tidy battlefield. Co-ordinating the 16 separate projects that make up the big picture. Some have been bundled – for example, the buildings taskforce has three projects that make up the core terminal buildings. Every month the heads of these teams meet up with Wolstenholme to ensure that everyone is aware of the progress they have made to their objectives. Daily site visits help everyone remember who's boss.

The key job for the buildings team has been the roof structure, the biggest of its type in the UK. The first phase of this started on 27 October, and the first elements were lifted on to the main structure at Easter (see pages 22-26).

The principal discipline in Wolsteholme's construction philosophy is keeping to the battleplan. He has split the construction programme into 70 or so milestones, such as the lifting of the roof and the diversion of the twin rivers. All last year's milestones were reached on time, and the construction team is well on course to repeat that feat this year.

Wolstenholme gives the impression that some milestones might be more important motivational tools to the workforce than others, when he says: "A very visible part of the programme this year was lifting the roof. That was exemplary."

Wolstenholme took the concept of the milestone from McLaren, the Formula 1 group. "Its mission is to enter and win every Grand Prix. So what are our Grand Prix on T5? Each one of the milestones."

On visiting the McLaren headquarters, Wolstenholme was impressed that the first thing that he saw was the trophy cabinet: this told the visitor that here was a team focused on quality. So, his job is to remind suppliers that T5 expects a similar commitment to excellence. He holds quarterly meetings with the managing directors of every key contractor and suppliers – including Ray O'Rourke.

Although Wolstenholme tends to drift into the intangible language of "passion" and "commitment", he is canny enough to realise that the suppliers have far more hard-bitten reasons to meet his strict targets. Even without £4bn work at T5, BAA has a further £4bn of work planned for its other airports. Not meeting expectations on this job might mean contractors and consultants miss juicy contracts in the future. Wolstenholme says that this creates a "necessary tension".

Not meeting expectations on this job might mean firms miss out on juicy contracts in the future. this creates a ‘necessary tension’

However, many of the suppliers have come through BAA's rigorous selection process to become framework partners. To get these frameworks, they have already proven themselves to be among the best in the business. It also means that they have been brought on board early, as is the BAA ethos, creating a more integrated project.

"I have been here only two years," explains Wolstenholme, "but Richard Rogers, for example, was chosen way before my time."

These suppliers have to come up with work execution plans.

One way of keeping the costs down in them has been through prefabrication. BAA estimates that its focus on this has led to T5 achieving between 10% and 15% greater productivity than it otherwise would have. Similarly, innovations in the development of pavement concrete has led to a 25% reduction in bulk materials required for the aircraft stands and pavement areas.

Despite the good news, Wolstenholme concedes that skills shortages pose a threat to the programme. The local labour strategy (see page 46) set up by BAA might bring some young people into the industry, he muses. There seems to be some truth to this – more than 39,000 calls have been made to the T5 construction recruitment hotline, and about 4000 people currently work on the project. By the time it is finished, BAA estimates that more than 60,000 people will have had a hand in its construction.