British Airways halts most Heathrow cargo operations

British Airways halts most Heathrow cargo operations

British Airways has stopped most cargo movements through its new $400 million terminal at London's Heathrow Airport.

The terminal is not expected to resume normal operations until Sunday or Monday, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

The airline halted most operations at the terminal Tuesday evening because of structural problems in its automated storage system for containers and pallets. It began making repairs Wednesday night. "They anticipate that it will take approximately four days from last night to have operations back to 100 percent," said spokeswoman Laura Barnes. The carrier hopes to phase operations back in over the next several days.

The carrier attributed the problem to "a number of failures of bolts within the ULD (unit-load device) storage system."

To enable the carrier to clear freight already at the terminal, known as Ascentis, BA has advised customers that it will be unable to accept any new freight into the facility. It can, however, accept cargo that moves through a separate facility. This includes unitized perishables freight terminating at Heathrow, as well as express, courier and mail consignments, livestock and human remains, secure consignments that are either loose or built into AKEs, a loading device. But it cannot handle containerized or palletized cargo, which accounts for the majority of its traffic. It also cannot handle palletized freight sold under its Secure service.

Operations at BA's other London airports, Gatwick and Stansted, are not affected by the shutdown, nor are shipments moving through other British airports.

The shutdown is the latest failure at Ascentis, which opened in 2001 after a two-year delay. BA is not the only European carrier facing problems this week with its cargo terminals. A tornado in Bordeaux destroyed Air France's cargo terminal there Tuesday. "It's really completely gonzo," one official said.