25-Mar-2011 9:23 AM

BAA to invest GBP50m in response to report on snow disruptions

UK Chairman of the Business Infrastructure Commission Professor David Begg, also a BAA non-executive director, in his report on the Dec-2010 snow crisis at London Heathrow Airport, was fiercely critical of how Heathrow and airlines responded to the crisis (The Telegraph, 24-Mar-2011). The report, which was commissioned by BAA, states that despite similarly heavy snowfalls in the previous winter and several weeks before the Dec-2010 crisis, “BAA failed to learn the lessons”. “The potential impact of the weather forecast was not fully anticipated in the days preceding the event,” wrote Professor Begg, “this led to a low state of preparedness ahead of the snow and insufficient stock of critical supplies.” According the The Telegraph, important findings of the report include:

  • A lack of apron space at Heathrow prevented aircraft from leaving, and  prevented others from landing because there was nowhere for them to park;
  • There were failures in communication and co-ordination within BAA, and between BAA and airlines;
  • Confused and conflicting messages caused incorrect signals to go to airlines, to passengers, and from airlines to passengers;
  • It led to terminals being packed with people turning up for services which were not operating, while others stayed at home when their service actually operated;
  • Some airlines were accused of failing to provide help to stranded passengers.

BAA announced (24-Mar-2011) plans to develop a GBP50 million "Heathrow resilience investment plan", which the airport operator will recommend to airlines and the UK Civil Aviation Authority in Apr-2011. BAA's plan allows London Heathrow to implement all the recommendations of the Begg Winter Resiliance Report. This includes:

  • Revised airport snow plans, including new equipment, increased staff resources and training;
  • Crisis management processes;
  • Systems for command and control and communication between the airport community (including airlines) and passengers;
  • Passenger care and support, in addition to that provided by airlines under EU legislation. [more]

Mr Matthews said BAA wouldn’t be able to implement all the recommendations in time for next winter, with some initiatives taking several years to come into force.

BAA: "Following December’s disruption, we invested in new equipment, people and training to enable us to respond better to snow in future. We are now putting together a comprehensive action plan to implement all 14 Begg recommendations. I am pleased to have secured agreement from the chief executives of British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, British Midland International, NATS and the CAA to establish a Heathrow partnership for passengers which meets regularly to publicly reinforce Heathrow’s collective commitment to make every passenger’s journey better than the last one." Colin Matthews, CEO. Source: Company statement, 24-Mar-2011.

Virgin Atlantic CEO Steve Ridgway welcomed news of BAA's investment in snow infrastructure, but expressed concerns about how the airport operator will fund the investment. “Whilst extra investment in this capacity at Heathrow Airport is clearly a good thing, we would expect the bulk of this cost to be met by the airport operator," says Mr Ridgeway, "we want to be clear that there must be a requirement on BAA to take more responsibility and to deliver a consistent high-level service to airlines and passengers alike.” bmi expressed similar concerns, “BAA has to find the majority of funding for these improvements through greater efficiencies. Airlines and customers should not be asked to pay,” a bmi spokesperson said. 

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