BAA failed to respond fully to weather forecasts in December, the airport operator's initial response to the winter snowfall was ineffective, and "confused and conflicting" messages botched communication between the operator, airlines and passengers, an inquiry concluded yesterday.
The report, by BAA's independent director, David Begg, comes after severe winter weather disrupted flights and caused chaos at Heathrow in the run-up to Christmas. BAA chief executive Colin Matthews, who commissioned the inquiry, conceded the airport operator should have been better prepared to deal with the snowfall.
"The potential impact of the weather forecast was not fully anticipated in the days preceding the event," the report said. "This led to a low state of preparedness ahead of the snow and insufficient stock of critical supplies."
The Begg inquiry also noted that while the operator's crisis-management system was invoked on 17 December to deal with congestion at Heathrow's Terminal 5, the initial response was "not effective". "There were failures in communication and co-ordination within BAA, and between BAA and airlines, which led to ineffective engagement between different parties," it said.
There were other failures, too, with airlines attracting criticism for the fact that some showed an "apparent lack of compliance" with EU rules governing passenger assistance. The report said travellers experienced distress as a result. They also suffered because of "different and conflicting messages to passengers about the state of the airport and flights". BAA itself was slow to react to terminal congestion, though its response to congestion and support for passengers was "increasingly effective from 20 December".
The Begg inquiry made 14 recommendations, covering everything from preparation and planning, command and control to communications and passenger welfare. In response, BAA said it would implement the lessons via a £50m "Heathrow resilience investment plan", which it will put forward to airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) next month.
"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," Mr Matthews said, announcing that BAA had agreed with "the chief executives of British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, British Midland International, [the air traffic control body] Nats and CAA to establish a Heathrow partnership for passengers".