‘Snow timetables’ will limit chaos, says MP

The Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, has said that airlines based at Heathrow Airport must cooperate with the British Airports Authority (BAA) during periods of heavy snowfall. The MP claimed that several airlines – which have not been named – attempted to ‘force’ their aircraft into vacant takeoff slots, causing confusion for passengers, and headaches for airport workers.

In future, says Mr. Hammond, airlines must adhere to emergency ‘snow timetables’ during bad weather, in a bid to avoid the “unacceptable spectacle” of holidaymakers arriving for flights that have either been cancelled or delayed. The move will effectively allow the BAA to ‘shepherd’ 95 world airlines, including Heathrow’s largest carrier, British Airways (BA).

According to the London Evening Standard, BA terminated all flights from the London hub on December 18 2010, after snowfall brought the country to a chilly standstill. However, the announcement was made against the wishes of the BAA, which felt that Heathrow would be able to remain open, despite rapidly worsening weather conditions. The suspension of the flag-carrier’s flights stranded hundreds of passengers in Terminal 5, but Philip Hammond and BA’s bitter rival, Virgin Atlantic, have since directed blame at the BAA for the chaos that befell Heathrow at the end of last year.

Mr. Hammond said that the snow timetable plan has been “signed off” by airlines. The claim seems to go against earlier opinions of the scheme, which was originally proposed by Heathrow’s chief executive, Colin Matthews. The Telegraph quoted an ‘insider’ saying, “What planet is Colin Matthews on?” The anonymous source noted that the plan would only work for a handful of major carriers. Similarly, the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK said that the ability to force emergency timetables should “not be considered as an alternative to an effective snow plan”.

December’s weather was arguably the most disruptive of recent years, and rivalled the volcanic ash crisis of early 2010 for causing chaos in the aviation industry. Experts claim that delayed flights, cancelled trains, and icy roads cost Britain £280m per day.

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