Last updated: January 13, 2011 9:42 am

BAA warns on cost of protecting against snow

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Air passengers may be forced to pay higher fares to cover the cost of protecting Britain’s airports against snow if winters turn permanently colder, BAA said on Wednesday.

Britain’s largest airport owner said Arctic weather conditions in the week before Christmas cost an estimated £24m, with passenger numbers across the country falling 10.9 per cent to 7.2m in December compared with Christmas 2009 as the big freeze closed runways and halted flights.

But BAA said airlines shared responsibility for the disruption as they had agreed to a recovery plan that failed to take account of deep snow.

Colin Matthews, BAA chief executive, said airlines needed to renegotiate the emergency plan, which could lead to an increase in operating fees that carriers would probably pass to customers.

“If we are talking about facilities to look after stranded passengers in the long run – hotel rooms and so forth – the only source of money for that is in the aircraft tickets. That’s why we have to be sure we make adequate plans with the airlines if we are to continue to face extreme weather events,” he said.

BAA was heavily criticised for its handling of the problems at Heathrow. Thousands trying to get away for Christmas had to camp overnight in the terminals as flights almost ground to a halt.

Facing a public outcry, Mr Matthews said last month he would not accept his bonus for 2010 and pledged to spend £10m on new equipment at Heathrow, some of which has already arrived.

Virgin has said it would not pay landing and parking fees to BAA from January 1, until a report into the disruption, led by a BAA non-executive director, was published in March.

Mr Matthews said he was disappointed the disagreements were being aired in public.

“It’s wrong to imagine we cooked up a snow plan in our corner.

“In retrospect the amount of snow we planned for is inadequate but the plan was discussed multiple times with airlines through the year and was published on our website.

“Passengers benefit when airlines and airports collaborate and suffer when we fight, so we will not fight in public. I’ll talk to Virgin and we’ll resolve it in private.”

British Airways, Heathrow’s largest airline, put the cost of the snowfall at £50m last week while Flybe, Britain’s largest domestic carrier, said on Wednesday it lost about £6m.

For 2010 as a whole, BAA said passenger numbers fell 0.2 per cent to 65.7m at Heathrow and 2.8 per cent to 103.9m for the group.

Demand was hurt by strikes at British Airways, the airport’s biggest customer, and the eruption of an Icelandic volcano in April, as well as bad weather.

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