London Heathrow operator BAA says that it has invested £32.4 million (US$52.1m) this year in its Winter Resilience Programme. The investment follows the snowfalls of December 2010, which brought the airport to a standstill and caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled and many thousands of passengers’ travel plans to be severely disrupted. BAA asked Professor David Begg to chair an enquiry to establish how BAA, working with the airline community, NATS and the CAA, could increase Heathrow’s resilience to disruption in order to improve passengers’ experience of the airport. The Enquiry made 14 recommendations which BAA accepted and agreed to implement in full.
The operator has now issued an update on its progress. The work has been grouped into three main areas: snow planning and preparation; crisis management command and control; and passenger welfare and information. As a result BAA has tripled the number of vehicles available for snow clearance compared to December 2010, with a total fleet of 185 vehicles. Just as important, it has increased the total number of staff available for snow clearance from 117 to 468 per shift. It has also established a ‘Reservist’ role which will see up to 950 non-operational staff deployed to terminals to help passengers during disruption.
Furthermore, it has agreed with airlines, NATS and ACL (the company responsible for allocating 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. There are also plans for a new airport control centre.
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.”