Pioneering Heathrow Pod System Launches with Firstco Support

In April 2011 Heathrow Airport launched the world’s first commercially operated personal rapid transport (PRT) system. Firstco was delighted to be asked to support the core team during several stages of the project’s lifecycle to bring this unique venture to fruition.

The pod system, the first of its kind and commissioned by BAA, was pioneered by Bristol-based Ultra Global PRT. The 21 driverless, battery-powered vehicles have been built to carry 900 passengers per day between the T5 business car park and the terminal. Designed to travel along a two-way elevated route using laser sensors, each pod operates on demand from passengers. It has carried 250,000 passengers since its launch.

Fraser Brown, managing director Ultra Global PRT said: ‘The Firstco team demonstrated flexibility, commitment and conscientiousness when working with our engineers and this undoubtedly helped make the pod system such a success.’

In December 2010 BAA approached Firstco, requesting specialised support to ensure the final product accomplished its ground-breaking potential. Firstco worked with a team of Ultra engineers providing procedure manuals for several systems to use as part of the operations, maintenance and asset control before the system went live.

The collaboration was later extended when Firstco was asked to continue working throughout the trials to verify reliability and availability criteria, optimising the system in time to welcome the passengers.

Amit Seth, Firstco project manager: "Ultra PRT relies fully on a robust communications and security infrastructure to support the exchange of information between the vehicles and control room – therefore we were involved in a critical aspect of the project."

The Heathrow pod represents the Airport’s quest to improve the surrounding environment and Firstco is delighted to have contributed to this. The new pods use 70% less energy than it takes to power a car and 50% less than a bus. They are expected to eliminate 50,000 bus journeys or 500,000 passenger journeys on the roads just between Terminal 5 and its business car park. The loss of the bus service means that carbon emissions and traffic have been significantly cut since the introduction.

After a successful trial process and launch, Firstco now holds the support contract, ensuring the ongoing smooth running of the systems.

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