Heathrow's new £2.5bn (A$4.5bn) Terminal 2 will be a "game-changer" for the airport and give the UK economy a competitive edge over France and Germany, the airport's new boss said on Wednesday.
The building opened without a hitch, welcoming just 6000 passengers on the first day of operation – 0.3 per cent of its 20m passenger capacity – thereby avoiding the chaotic scenes which accompanied the opening of Terminal 5 in 2008.
John Holland-Kaye, who takes over as Heathrow's chief executive next month, said the new terminal would help its quest for a third runway, insisting perceptions had changed since the airport's last plans were rebuffed by the Coalition in the UK four years ago.
"What Terminal 2 does is completely change the balance because it shows our ambition to completely rebuild Heathrow airport while running it," he said. "It is a game-changer in terms of people's perception of what Heathrow is all about."
Terminal 2 replaces Heathrow's first permanent building, which was opened by the Queen in 1955. It will eventually be home to 26 airlines, 23 of which are members of the Star Alliance group of carriers, including Air China, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.
United was the first airline to operate out of the new terminal yesterday but all 26 carriers will have moved in by the end of October.
The new building will eventually replace Terminal 1, which will close in October next year and be demolished. Mr Holland-Kaye said: "I think the political landscape has changed massively in the last five to six years.
"It has changed because people are much more aware of the benefits of jobs and growth that come from the airport, both as it is today and as an expanded airport.
"We have been able to listen much more to the local community and changed our plans to be more acceptable. We have coming together a possibility of building a political consensus around Heathrow which wasn't there five years ago, both at a national level and local level."
He said Terminal 2 would ensure Heathrow stays ahead of its closest rivals in Europe - Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt, which are all competing for business, particularly for routes to emerging markets.
"Not only do we have better long-haul connections than any other airport in the world... we also have a world class airport," he said.
"This will now be a better airport than Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. It makes us better able to compete as a country against the French and the Germans who are all chasing global growth."
Heathrow has been preparing for the opening for the past six months to avoid the embarrassment of 2008, when flights had to be cancelled on the first day of Terminal 5's operation and other passengers faced delays or lost baggage.
Terminal 5 was only completed two weeks before it opened but Heathrow has been road-testing Terminal 2 since last November with the help of 14,000 volunteers from local communities who pretended to be passengers.
The new building is part of a much wider overhaul of Heathrow, which will result in passengers passing through two terminals, East and West. These will be formed from Terminals 2 and 5.
The airport will start looking at plans for a £4.5bn (A$8.12bn) extension to Terminal 2 in 2018-19.
The extent of its investment plans will depend on whether it is selected for an additional runway by the Airports Commission.
The Telegraph, London