Heathrow boss grilled over disruption

Earlier this week, the chief executive of the British Airports Authority (BAA), Colin Matthews, told the House of Commons that “too much snow” was the reason for a spate of closures at Heathrow Airport during December 2010. Mr. Matthews, who is also the current head of the London airport, then apologised for the “thousands of Christmas holidays” that were disrupted by delays and cancellations.

Whilst the conclusion may seem obvious, the volume of snow that fell at the end of last year was greater than officials at Heathrow Airport had expected or prepared for, rendering the hub’s contingency plans useless. However, representatives of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, who were also invited to the recent hearing, said that the BAA exacerbated the problem by failing to communicate effectively with Heathrow’s resident airlines.

The international hub was forced to cancel 1,280 flights on Sunday December 19, forcing some passengers to sleep on the terminal floor. Mr. Matthews claimed that persistent snowfall had “totally overwhelmed” Heathrow Airport. Neighbouring hub, Gatwick, was similarly affected, but managed to resist the frequent closures that plagued its larger rival.

Mr. Matthews refused to take his annual bonus as recompense for the chaos, but a recent pay rise, equating to an extra £151,000 per year, will surely heal the cracks in the chief executive’s piggy bank. The wage boost, which came just a few days after Mr. Matthews delivered his apology to the House of Commons, is made up of pension payments, according to the BAA.

The BAA lost around £24m due to festive blizzards, with all but £4m of the figure lost at Heathrow Airport. The BAA has pledged to “do better in future”, but the promise is likely a result of a government proposal to fine or otherwise punish airport owners for failing to prevent disruption to travellers.

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