The UK is considering new laws to fine airport operators if they disrupt passengers' journeys, the government says.
UK mulls laws to fine airports after snow chaos
LONDON // Britain is considering new laws to fine airport operators if they disrupt passengers' journeys due to poor planning, the government said on Sunday, after snow led to widespread cancellations and delays last week.
Snow and ice grounded flights across Britain and northern Europe before Christmas, raising questions over whether airport operators should have been better prepared.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said managers at London's Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport, had badly underestimated how much de-icing fluid they would need.
One of two runways at Heathrow, owned by Spanish company Ferrovial, was closed for four days due to the snow and many planes were frozen in their parking bays.
European Commissioner for Transport Siim Kallas called the disruption unacceptable and said he may force airports by law to provide a minimum level of service during bad weather.
Britain's transport ministry said the disruption had highlighted the weakness of the UK aviation regulator's existing powers to hold airport operators to account.
"The government is committed to reforming the way airports are regulated, putting passengers at the very heart of how they are run," a Department for Transport spokeswoman said. "This will require primary legislation and we are considering options for how best to take this forward."
Any new laws could see the biggest airport operators granted licences that they risk losing if they fail to cope with emergencies such as extreme weather, Hammond said in an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper.
"Because airports are ultimately strategic infrastructure, we probably need to have as a very last resort some powers to intervene in the way we don't have at the moment," Hammond was quoted as saying. His ministry did not give details of the timing and exact form of any new legislation on airport operators.
After recent criticism, BAA announced an inquiry into its handling of the icy weather and promised to spend an extra 10 million pounds ($15.44 million) on measures to cope with snow.