Heathrow unveils winter snow plans

Heathrow will have more equipment and more staff on hand to deal with bad weather this winter following the chaos at the west London airport last Christmas, it was announced today.

Heavy snow fall on the Saturday before Christmas led to a near-shutdown of Heathrow, with thousands of festive travellers forced to camp at the airport - some for several days.

Heathrow operator BAA was fiercely criticised for failing to deal with the severe weather.

Today BAA announced a "winter resilience programme". The company said it had:

:: Tripled the number of vehicles available for snow clearance compared to December 2010, with a total fleet of 185 vehicles;

:: Increased the total number of staff available for snow clearance from 117 to 468 per shift;

:: Introduced a new "reservist" role which will see up to 950 non-operational staff deployed to terminals to help passengers during disruption;

:: Agreed with airlines, air traffic control company Nats and ACL (the company responsible for allocating take-off and landing slots at Heathrow) a new process for managing the necessary flight cancellations during disruption so that passengers receive more timely and accurate information about whether their flight is operating;

:: Initiated plans for a new airport control centre and improved the support and information provided to passengers during disruption.

So far BAA has committed to investing £32.4 million in implementing the new measures.

Normand Boivin, chief operating officer of Heathrow, said: "Much has been done to improve Heathrow's response to severe winter weather and there is more still to do.

"There will be lots of attention on Heathrow the next time it snows heavily. We won't be perfect but we will be better, and we will improve each time we practise our new response plans.

"There will still be times when for safety reasons airports have to close during severe weather, but the work detailed in today's report means that this should happen less often at Heathrow and that the airport community responds better when it does. "