Heathrow airport operator BAA faces mounting anger from airlines and government as the chaos at Britain’s leading gateway continues.
A major carrier at the airport said airlines chiefs were “staggered at the incompetence” of what is normally the world’s busiest international airport.
“We are absolutely flabbergasted at their inability to de-ice, keep runways open and in terms of their organisation and ability to give out information,” said the source. “We do conference calls around our network and when our colleagues hear that we have two inches of snow and there’s disruption they just laugh at us.”
BAA chief executive Colin Matthews today told the BBC he “couldn’t be more sorry”, for the situation at Heathrow, adding that it “may well be” that BAA needed to buy more equipment like snow ploughs.
BAA has in the past attracted criticism for investing in lucrative retailing at its airports instead of the operational side. Heathrow’s position as the UK’s premier business airport means government anger is increasing because it is damaging the image of the UK. The airport has been severely affected because although runways are open, aircraft cannot leave stands due to the amount of ice and snow around them.
The airline source explained: “Heathrow simply failed to keep up with the situation in terms of the length of time needed to de-ice aircraft on the stands and to move it off – you need to move two to three tonnes of snow to move each one. It will be a number of days before we get back to normal.”
BAA’s Heathrow website detailing live departures and arrivals was this morning not functioning and the operator was putting out information via Twitter.
“There are still severe delays and cancellations, check with the airline before coming to the airport,” said a Heathrow spokeswoman. “We have hundreds of people working on the airfield. It has been a challenge for our equipment to get rid of the ice with the temperatures we are experiencing.”
The situation is not expected to improve as temperatures will not move above freezing and more snow is expected during this evening’s rush hour.
Meanwhile, Gatwick airport has returned to almost normal operation. Gatwick will today see almost 700 departures and arrivals after securing extra snow moving equipment over the weekend. The airport is to double its snow vehicle fleet from 47 to 95 at a cost of £8 million, although most of these vehicles will not arrive until the new year.
Gatwick has not been immune from weather problems and has closed several times in recent weeks, but a spokeswoman said this morning: “We are as close as we can be to normal operations.”
Gatwick was bought by Global Infrastructure Partners, the owners of London City airport, a year ago after the Competition Commission forced BAA to sell it because of its dominance in the south-east via its ownership of Heathrow and Stansted.
GIP paid £1.5 billion for Gatwick, promising a major investment programme, including the removal of a shopping mall to expand the security search area.