FOR a while now it has been clear that something was seriously wrong at Heathrow airport and, to a lesser extent, at Gatwick and Stanstead, all owned by the Spanish company Ferrovial. The signs were there for everyone to see, whether it was the long queues for clearing security, the long delays for baggage, late departures and arrivals, and a general sense of things running out of control. Heathrow was the focus of the trouble as the City, ministers, airline chiefs, travel agencies and frequent travellers began to say that it was becoming a national ambarrassment. Even so, it was difficult to identify the main source of the problem until a few weeks ago, under intense pressure from all the criticism, Ferrovial decided to stop communicating with the media; the company's head of PR and his deputy promptly resigned. It was an extraordinary decision; no company, especially one in the business of providing a public service can afford to be without active 24/7 contacts with the media.

Clearly, Ferrovial must have realised that a fresh start was needed. It has persuaded Sir Nigel Rudd, former chairman of Alliance Boots, to become chairman of BAA, in place of Rafael del Pino, and Lord Stevens, former commisioner of the Metropolitan Police, will join him. In interviews yesterday Sir Nigel, one of the City's biggest hitters, decribed the job as “the most challenging role I have ever undertaken”. It's not difficult to believe him.