Heathrow Airport operator BAA has said it would welcome legislation that would “improve the experience for passengers” as the Government mulls new plans to fine airports if they fail passengers.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said he wanted the air regulators to have new powers after Heathrow was closed during the big freeze last week, ruining the holidays of tens of thousands of people.
A spokesman for BAA said: “We will of course play a full part in the Government’s discussions about this year’s weather disruption and will make public the findings of our own independent investigation. We welcome legislation designed to improve the experience for passengers at the UK’s airports.”
Ten day ago six inches of snow closed Heathrow and left hundreds of thousands of passengers unable to fly home for Christmas.
Aviation Minister, Theresa Villiers, said: “Obviously we had been in touch with the airports urging them to be properly prepared for the winter weather. Next time they need to do better.
“It [new legislation] would give the regulator power to fine the airport where it does let passengers down and doesn’t prepare properly for severe weather conditions. We want to make sure that airports are doing their very best to prepare for severe weather conditions.”
Heathrow Airport invested only £500,000 on snow clearing equipment this year, despite two previous winters of heavy snowfall. The airport had just 10 snow ploughs available to clear the runway. This contrasts with Gatwick, which is less than half the size of Heathrow, which boasts 14.
Under the current regime, financial penalties can only be imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority for specific categories, including security, seating availability, passenger queues and cleanliness.
However the new airport regulations would provide extra powers to impose fines for a wide range of service failures, including failure to prepare for adverse weather conditions.
Villiers said: “The proposals we have got would put passengers at the heart of the regulatory system. The regulator would have the chance to get involved to work out whether the airport is performing well enough in the face of winter resilience, whether it has prepared well enough and whether it has let passengers down.”
Mr Hammond said that BAA had underestimated the amount of de-icer it would need.
The company anticipated it would require 35,000 litres of de-icer in the most atrocious winter conditions and held just 10 days worth of stock. Early last week it was using 100,000 litres a day and supplies quickly ran low.