Airports face fines for passenger delays

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The Independent Online

Airports could be fined millions of pounds for disrupting passengers travel under new plans being considered by the Government.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said he wanted the air regulators to have new powers after Heathrow ground to a halt during the big freeze last week, ruining the holidays of tens of thousands of people.

Mr Hammond told The Sunday Times it was unacceptable that BAA, which runs Britain's busiest airport, faced no punishment from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) under the current regime.

He said: "There should be an economic penalty for service failure. Greater weight needs to be given to performance and passenger satisfaction."

Ministers are considering a new airport economic regulation bill, which would give more powers to impose fines for a wide range of service failures.

Under the existing system, fines can be imposed by the CAA for failures like passenger queues at security and cleanliness. The maximum total penalty is said to be 7% of airport charges, resulting in a potential sum of £63 million.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews announced he would forgo his annual bonus after last week's extended disruption at Heathrow.

The firm, which is owned by a Spanish conglomerate, found itself unable to shift snow and ice from runways and aircraft gates, paralysing the gateway for several days.

Prime Minister David Cameron was among those who voiced his frustration at the disruption, and BAA has since launched an investigation into the problems.

There were also flight disruptions at Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Gatwick, London Luton and London City airports and across Europe.

The EU Commission slammed the continent's air travel disruption as unacceptable and urged airports to "get serious" about better planning for bad weather.

Meanwhile, parts of the UK enjoyed a white Christmas yesterday as forecasters warned there would be no major respite from the cold until next year.

Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and north-east England all claimed to have had some fabled Christmas snow - but forecasters said there was more snow on the ground than came through the air.

Most of the UK saw crisp wintry conditions with clear blue skies and freezing temperatures, with similar weather expected today. It means this month could be the coldest December since records began.

Tomorrow and Tuesday will see temperatures rise, becoming much milder especially in the far west. The South West could see daytime temperatures topping 10C on Tuesday.

But the weather could turn to freezing again by the weekend, forecasters warned.

Brendan Jones, forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "Once we get past Monday there's no seriously cold weather.

"But at this stage there's nothing very mild coming in either so 5C or 6C is more likely what we'll see.

"As we head towards next weekend we've got hints that it'll get colder again."

Yesterday's lowest temperature was recorded at Castlederg in Northern Ireland where the mercury plummeted to -17.1C.

The wintry weather in Scotland saw hazardous driving conditions and two police officers taken to hospital yesterday after they were hit by a car while dealing with a road crash.

The officers, both constables, were near their marked vehicle dealing with a collision on the A77 near Kilmarnock at around 9.50am. They needed hospital treatment but were not seriously injured.

London was grey and gloomy yesterday, but bookmakers' spirits were raised as the popular bet of Christmas snow in the capital failed to pay off.

Coral's David Stevens said: "Fresh snowfall across the UK would have won punters a multimillion-pound Christmas present.

"However, with the exception of parts of Scotland and north-east England, snow is in short supply and it looks like being a happy Christmas for the bookies."

Transport Minister Theresa Villiers said the new legislation would give the regulator greater powers to intervene between the regular five-yearly price reviews.

"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 or not," she told BBC News.

"It would give the regulator the power to fine an airport where it does let passengers down and doesn't prepare properly for severe weather conditions."