British airports may face fine for flight disruption: report

A new airport economic regulation bill would provide extra powers to impose fines for a wide range of service failures. It will include penalties for failures to prepare for adverse weather conditions or poor management that leads to overcrowded terminals, the Sunday Times reported today quoting Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

Hammond said he wants regulators to have new powers after Heathrow ground to a halt in snow last week, leading to hundreds of cancelled flights and severe disruption for tens of thousands of Christmas holiday makers. He has also sought a thorough investigation into the Christmas-eve chaos at the airport.

Under the current regime, financial penalties can be imposed only by the Civil aviation Authority in specific categories, including passenger queues at security, seating availability and cleanliness.

The maximum total annual penalty - which would be returned to the airlines using the airport is 7 per cent of airport charges, equivalent to a potential sum of about 63 million pounds.

Hammond said it was unacceptable that British Airport Authority (BAA), which runs Heathrow airport, would face no punishment from the regulator under the current regime.

"There should be an economic penalty for service failure. Greater weight needs to be given to performance and passenger satisfaction," he said.

BAA, which is owned by Ferrovial, the Spanish conglomerate, was exposed last week over its inadequate planning for harsh winter conditions. It had spent only 500,000 pounds on anti-snow machinery this year and did not have adequate de-icer stocks, according to the report.

The transport secretary may also use the bill to introduce powers for the regulator to intervene when an airport is failing to operate effectively. The biggest operators will be awarded licences and could be stripped of them if they are incompetent.

"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, except where safety and security are concerned," he said.

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