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BAA backs new legislation by air regulators

BAA today said it welcomed legislation that would "improve the experience for passengers" as the Government considers new plans to fine airports millions of pounds.

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.

A spokesman for BAA said: "We will of course play a full part in the Government's discussions about this year's weather disruption and will make public the findings of our own independent investigation.

"We welcome legislation designed to improve the experience for passengers at the UK's airports."

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, Northern Ireland bore the brunt of the wintry conditions with Katesbridge in Banbridge, County Down falling to -16.9C overnight.

Clare Allen, forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said: "Northern Ireland has had a short spell of snow today but it's mainly sleet and rain."

The Met Office issued a severe weather warning for widespread ice on roads and pavements in Northern Ireland, as daytime temperatures struggled to get above 4C.

Much of the UK is experiencing a bitterly cold Boxing Day with most areas below freezing. More snow was expected to fall in parts of southern Scotland.

Tomorrow will see milder conditions as maximum temperatures are expected to reach 8C in south west England.