BAA chief admits lack of readiness for snow

BAA should have been better prepared to deal with the winter snowfall that disrupted flights and caused chaos at Heathrow airport for four days in the run-up to Christmas, the airport operator's chief executive, Colin Matthews, has said.

Flights were cancelled and thousands of passengers saw their travel plans thrown off course when severe weather led to the closure of Heathrow's runways. "I felt terrible about the situation that passengers were in," he said.

Mr Matthews also expressed regret about a confident statement on BAA's snow plans issued in November which said: "Heathrow's army of snow ploughs stretch their wings as the snow bites." "I regret that statement but we were confident because we had dealt with three quite severe snow incidents quite successfully in 2009 and 2010," he said. "What happened in December was a much bigger event. In retrospect, we should have been prepared for more. We must prepare for intense snow in the future."

The comments, which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4's File on 4 programme this evening, come as BAA, which was taken private by the Spanish investment group Ferrovial in 2006, publishes its annual results. Besides Heathrow, the company owns and operates Stansted, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Southampton airports, making it the UK's biggest airport operator.

Mr Matthews decided to forgo his bonus for the year. Speaking to File on 4, he explained his decision. "I didn't spend all that week, that weekend thinking about what my bonus would be. But the question was put to me by the press and I was really keen that our focus should be on the passengers and that's why I took the step I did," he said.

BAA also told the BBC that it was increasing its resources by doubling its fleet of snow clearance vehicles to more than 100.