BAA plans £50m Heathrow investment to avoid snow chaos - Begg Report

BAA has promised a £50m investment at Heathrow and a strengthened Snow Plan to avoid a repeat of December's snow chaos before Christmas.

This follows the Begg Report, commissioned by BAA, which found a breakdown in communication and lack of "preparedness" for the bad weather.

The Winter Resilience Enquiry Report also said some airlines had failed to comply with rules on compensation and assistance to passengers.

Over 4,000 flights were cancelled over five days following heavy snowfall on Saturday 18 December 2010.

The report, chaired by one of BAA's non-executive directors, transport specialist Professor David Begg, said there was significant room for improvement across the Heathrow operation - from executive decision-making to the responsibilities of ground staff.

Heathrow Winter Resilience Enquiry

The report says:
* The potential impact of bad weather was "not fully anticipated"
* Airlines and BAA had no agreed procedure for dealing with such a situation
* BAA lacked some of the equipment it needed
* There was a failure of communication within BAA, and with the airlines
* Confused and conflicting messages were given to passengers
* Many passengers "were left in distress" as some airlines did not fulfil their obligations when flights were cancelled or delayed.

The report estimated that 9,500 passengers spent the night in Heathrow terminals on Saturday 18 December, and around 5,600 passengers spent the night in terminals on the second night of the crisis. Blankets and water were provided to some, but not all passengers. Many passengers sought refuge in the London Underground and Heathrow Express train stations.

The report makes 14 recommendations, which focus on improving crisis management procedures and establishing a "snow plan" which sets out specific responsibilities for BAA, airlines, the regulator, and air traffic control.

BAA said it would implement the recommendations, and spend £50m on improving procedures, training, and equipment. Colin Matthews, chief executive, said: "If the entire Heathrow community learns from this report, and works more collaboratively to promote passengers' interests, then this is a pivotal moment for the airport and its reputation." He said that ensuring there was no repeat was not just about more investment, but also about setting the right "leadership tone", he told BBC Radio 4.

Extract of key paragraphs from the Begg Report on Heathrow Winter Resilience Enquiry

42. During November/early December 2010 several European and UK airports experienced a level of disruption due to severe weather. Aberdeen and Glasgow airports were both closed for short periods, Gatwick was closed for a period of two days in early December, and both Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports experienced some periods of closure during the month of December.

48. December 2010 in South-East England was the coldest December, and the tenth coldest month, for 100 years. It is unusual, but not unprecedented, to have a month as cold and snowy as this in South East England. Spells of significant snow have affected South East England around 20 times in the last 50 winters.

51. The maximum snow depth at Heathrow was 9cm in the early afternoon of December 18. In the context of the long record of snow depths at Heathrow since the winter of 1948/49, this is not particularly rare.

59. The weekend of 18-19 December was expected to be Heathrow's busiest weekend of the year, with the majority of airlines operating full schedules and close to 100% of available seats booked. This meant that cancellations of flights during this period were particularly problematic because of the difficulty of rebooking. Passengers placed a significant premium on their ability to fly that weekend.

71. At 1800 on Friday 17 December 75% of aircraft stands were occupied across Heathrow. This is approximately 26% more than the percentage occupied on a normal day.

92. By 1500 on Saturday 18 December the additional turn-offs for the Northern runway were cleared. Priority was then given to clearing the taxiways, followed by the aircraft stands. The panel heard that the layout of Heathrow makes stand clearance difficult as many stands are situated in cul-de-sacs, which have a blocked end. This means there is limited room in which to manoeuvre equipment and no clear exit route for removal of the snow. At this time many stands were occupied by aircraft, making stand clearance more difficult.

96. By 1830 on 18 December the Northern runway and 4 taxiways out of 24 were open or partially open. Evidence was presented that no stands had been cleared to an operational standard and that there were reports of significant quantities of snow behind stands. The panel also heard evidence that the stands were heavily contaminated with deicing media and that as a result of the rapid drop in temperature experienced after the snow, ice had formed on stands. This was making stand clearance difficult and dangerous.

160. The panel considers that the stand clearance rate was slower than required and slower than the panel would have expected. This was because the condition of snow on stands became very difficult as a result of earlier aircraft de-icing and stand gritting. Airlines and BAA had not agreed priorities and protocols for dealing with and resourcing this situation. BAA did not have specialised equipment for under aircraft stand clearance.

The Begg Report in full

The full report is available from BAA at Begg Report.

Analysis of the problem - and a practical solution

An analysis of what went wrong and how closure from snow and ice can be prevented at airports in future is given at De-icing runways with IHT and geothermal heating.

BAA announces new Chief Operating Officer for Heathrow

Normand Boivin, currently Operations Director for Aeroports de Montreal, will be joining BAA as Chief Operating Officer for Heathrow on 29 August 2011.

Colin Matthews, BAA Chief Executive said: "I am delighted to welcome Normand to Heathrow. We want the best talent in global aviation working to improve Heathrow for passengers. Normand's immediate mission is to accelerate the improvement of Heathrow by developing our security processes, implementing the recommendations of the Heathrow Winter Resilience Enquiry, and preparing operations for the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012."

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