Heathrow 'overwhelmed by wrong amount of snow'

Heathrow's bad weather plan just before Christmas failed due to the wrong amount of snow, the airport's boss told MPs today.

Heathrow had planned for 6cm (2.4in) of snow "but got far more than that", Colin Matthews, chief executive of airport operator BAA, told the House of Commons Transport Committee.



He went on: "In retrospect we should have had a plan for more snow than 6cm."



Mr Matthews apologised for the disruption to passengers and airlines which saw Heathrow operations come to almost a complete halt, with thousands of Christmas getaway travellers jamming the terminals and sleeping there overnight.



He said BAA did "all we possibly could" for passengers but the bad weather "totally overwhelmed the ability of resources at Heathrow to cope with passengers".



Before Mr Matthews gave evidence, the committee heard from representatives of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, who told MPs of the lack of communication between BAA and airlines during the pre-Christmas disruption.



They were particularly upset about not getting news of the reopening of the second runway on Tuesday December 21.



Virgin chief executive Steve Ridgway told the committee: "It was pretty galling on that Tuesday to hear from the Prime Minister on the media that the runway was reopening that afternoon."



Virgin operations, safety and security director Corneel Koster said communications at times had been "absent".



He went on: "We had passengers waiting to depart and hearing from the media that the airport was shut. We had passengers told not to go to a terminal, but we had passengers leaving from that terminal.



"The second runway reopened on the 21st but for a good part of that morning we were told that it would not open."









BA operations director Andrew Lord said that the weather on Saturday December 18 was "extremely severe" but nevertheless BA had expected the second runway at Heathrow to "close and reopen very quickly".



He went on: "At the end of the day, if the airport operators do not provide a service to us it is our customers that suffer and that is a situation that is not acceptable to us."



Mr Matthews said: "I am very sorry indeed for the thousands of disrupted passengers and for the thousands of Christmas holidays affected and for the airlines and the company."



He said the snow disruption had cost BAA £20 million at Heathrow and a total of £24 million across its six UK airports.



Mr Matthews said BAA needed to "dramatically improve" its ability to communicate and that the company could "certainly have done better and will do better in the future".



He said a change of wind direction had led to the decision to reopen the second runway on December 21. Asked how the Prime Minister knew about the reopening before the airlines, Mr Matthews replied: "I don't know how that came about."



He added that Transport Secretary Philip Hammond had visited Heathrow on the morning of December 21 and that BAA had kept in touch with the Government during the disruption.



Mr Matthews said he had declined the Government's "welcome offer" of use of the Army to clear the runway at Heathrow as "it had already been cleared".



Powers to hold airport operators more to account for passenger-related performance are currently being considered in an airport economic regulation Bill.



Mr Matthews told MPs today: "I think it would be good to have a sweep of measures to reflect the customer experience and make sure that an airport operator does less well if it performs poorly."



He said BAA had done a number of things for stranded passengers last December, including providing food, accommodation, laptops and free parking.



But he admitted many passengers had had "extremely uncomfortable nights" at Heathrow.



Mr Matthews announced just before Christmas that he was foregoing his 2010 bonus. He has ordered an external inquiry into Heathrow's handling of the pre-Christmas disruption. The inquiry report is expected later this month and will be made public.



Gatwick airport chief executive Stewart Wingate told MPs the West Sussex airport had had 10cm of snow in the pre-Christmas spell of severe weather but had been able to operate again "within five hours".



Mr Wingate said it was important for airports to be in close contact with rail and road authorities. He said it had taken him 13 hours to reach Gatwick after getting stuck on the M25 during the bad weather.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions