Unprepared Heathrow refused to let airlines clear runways and had cut its snow defence budget

23.12.2010 (TravelMole)

Airlines offered Heathrow operator BAA help in clearing snow and ice from the
runways but were turned down for health and safety reasons, it emerged today.
Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond has already revealed that the government
offered BAA troops to de-ice the runways but were told that the operator could
handle it by itself.
Now, according to the Daily Telegraph, it seems Lufthansa and another unnamed
airline said they asked to help because BAA was not clearing snow fast enough
but were told that it contravened health and safety rules.
BAA has admitted that it was ill-prepared for the snow.   Only a third of flights were able to operate during the bad weather because the
airport had just 10 snow ploughs and seven de-icing vehicles. Gatwick, a much
smaller airport, has 14 snow ploughs.
The paper reports a Lufthansa spokesman as saying: “The whole process took too
long and should have been started earlier. There was not enough manpower available,
we were surprised how long it took to get things operational.
“We were not allowed to clean stands for health and safety reasons. BAA gets
a lot of money to operate the airport and they refused to do that.”
Another airline said BAA was being "jobsworth" about clearing the snow, refusing
to allow frustrated airlines to help.
Unbelievably, under current CAA regulations, BAA cannot be fined for its unprepared
approach to the weather. However, transport minister Theresa Villiers suggested
this morning that the regulations needed to be overhauled.
She told the Telegraph: "The recent episode reinforces the necessity of reforming
airport regulation."
A bill is now being put together that would give the CAA far stronger sanctions,
via new licence conditions.
If an airport did not respond to demands for better performance from the CAA,
then it could fine and then ultimately take away a company’s licence to operate
an airport.
by Dinah Hatch
see also
Channel 4

Heathrow cut snow defence budget by two-thirds

As Gatwick doubles its “snow fleet” to battle the big freeze, Channel 4 News
discovers Heathrow reduced its snow defence budget by two-thirds despite forecasting
record passenger numbers.

Heathrow’s operator BAA  reduced its investment in snow clearing equipment from £1.5m last year, to
just £500,000 in the current financial year.

BAA’s chief executive Colin Matthews has apologised to the thousands of stranded passengers lining Heathrow’s terminals, promising a full “forensic investigation” into the crisis.  

Meanwhile, Gatwick Airport is preparing to receive its third extra snow plough in as many

Gatwick, which is owned by US group Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP),  has
invested £8m in snow clearing equipment this year, and has ordered  6 new snow
ploughs from Zurich this month alone.

A spokesman for Gatwick told Channel 4 News that by the end of the winter season
it plans to double its fleet from last weeks’ 47 to a  total of 96. Gatwick currently
has 29 snow ploughs in its fleet

Heathrow, the world’s largest international airport with two runways, has a fleet
of 69 vehicles allocated to keep the runways clear – including  28 snow ploughs.

Last week, BAA stepped up its pre-tax profit forecast for the year by 15 per
cent, to £1.12bn, after reporting “robust trends” for the first three-quarters
of 2010.

BAA, which is controlled by Spanish group Ferrovial, said it expected the number
of passengers passing through Heathrow to climb 6.2 per cent to “an all time record”
of 70.4m.

A BAA spokeswoman for Heathrow told Channel 4 News that last year it invested three times as much in snow clearing equipment –  spending
£1.5m  mainly on de-icing fluid and storage for the fluid (each de-icer vehicle
holds 60,000 litres).

BAA said it spent  its snow  budget of half a million  pounds on new electronic
gauges to remotely measure de-icing levels, which helps to speed up the process
of ordering de-icer.

BAA told Channel 4 News: “There is £6m worth of snow and ice fighting technology in operation at Heathrow
airport. An extra £500k was invested this year alone to upgrade equipment. In
line with our planned investment for the airport, we are looking to spend an additional
£3m on this airfield equipment in the next four years.”

However, Channel 4 News understands that the £500,000 is not an extra spend for
the year, it is the only spend for 2010 within a pre-decided 5-year investment
programme that is  approved by the  Civil Aviation Authority.

In a press release issued last month, which has since vanished from the group’s
website, Heathrow claimed it had “been working for months to ensure the UK’s hub
airport will once again be prepared for the onset of winter”.

Mick Rix, of the union GMB, which represents Heathrow’s maintenance staff, told
Channel 4 News: “They are

having to spend money on de-icing planes because the planes are frozen, having
not moved because the runways haven’t been cleared. It’s up to the airport owner
to keep the runways clear so the planes can keep moving.

“BAA makes huge profits but clearly hasn’t put those profits back into Heathrow.”

Next year, BAA plans to spend £1bn upgrading its terminals and bringing their
“competitive advantage” into line with each other.

However, none of this will be directed towards snow maintenance – which will  analysed
in  Mr Matthews’ forensic review.

John Strickland, Director of JLS Consulting and former British Airways manager,
told Channel 4 News: “Gatwick had its own recent  two day closure, and learning from this ordered
more (snow ploughs).

He pointed out that comparing Heathrow with Stockholm was not to compare like
with like – historically, the UK has not suffered from particularly heavy winters.

However, he added that: “There clearly needs to be a thorough wash-up and review
of lessons to be learned and actions implemented to cope better for the future.”

GIP paid £1.5bn for Gatwick last year after the Competition Commission forced
BAA to sell it on the basis of BAA’s dominance in the south-east  as owners of
Heathrow and Stansted.

Costs of de-icing aircraft

A de-icing lorry can cost as much as £300,000 – the chassis alone costs £85,000,
while a custom-made body can cost in excess of £200,000. These can be bought more
cheaply, but many airlines choose to buy premium products which are more expensive,
one supplier told Channel 4 News. Each of these would then have to be filled with
a full tanker load of de-icer, but Univar, the supplier of de-icing fluid for
Heathrow and other airports told Channel 4 News it could not give even a rough
estimate of this wide-ranging cost. A snowplough, however, such as the one used
by many airports in the UK generally costs between £20,000 and £25,000.


see also
on 19th December, the FT said:
GIP, Gatwick’s owner, has spent an additional £1m on snow-clearing equipment
since acquiring the airport from BAA a year ago, even receiving two extra snowploughs
from Switzerland on Saturday morning. It plans to double its snow-clearing vehicles
from 47 to 95, spending £8m before next winter.
on 20th December the Telegraph said:

BAA, which is controlled by Spain’s Ferrovial, claimed it had spent an extra
£6million on equipment to deal with snow and ice compared with last year. But
with pre-tax profits expected to near £1 billion this year, the operator has been
accused of failing to invest properly in equipment to cope with the extreme cold.



the Mail on 19th December said:

A huge operation involving 50 specialist workers and 60 snow-clearing vehicles,
each worth £250,000, has failed to get the airport open because the ice is so