Wednesday, October 28, 2009

BAA Fined for Heathrow Airport Summer Chaos

Britain's summer of airport chaos, felt in particular at London Heathrow and Gatwick Airports, has led to a fine now being imposed on their owner - airport operating group BAA. Coming, as it does, at the end of a tumultuous few days for the firm, the fine has been ordered by the Civil Aviation Authority. Specifically, the money will be a form of reimbursement for airlines using Gatwick and Heathrow, recognising the severe delays experienced by passengers over the past few weeks.

The fine follows the severe criticism levelled at BAA from prominent sources far and wide - united in their belief that the company has failed to implement an action plan at Heathrow, and citing the airport's lack of capacity and lacklustre facilities. Speaking recently, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, stated that Heathrow "shamed" the British capital, while, in an economic sense, London minister Kitty Ussher highlighted how the now-infamous "Heathrow Hassle" would put off influential business figures from using it.

With the addition of the new fine, the total of Heathrow-related rebates levied on BAA in the past four years now exceeds the four-million mark. The situation, for many experts within the aviation industry, is not entirely unexpected. Indeed, one senior figure, commenting on the 30th August, described how airlines had grown tired of airports "treating passengers like cattle".

In lines with targets set by the CAA, BAA is required to ensure that the progress of 95 per cent of passengers, through the security areas of all airports under its ownership, occurs within a 10 minute timeframe - a demand it has failed to live up to. In fact, according to UK Airport Delays - an independent and highly specialised online monitoring service - the true figure is more than twice this. In some instances, waits of up to 40 minutes were recorded, frequently after said passengers had experienced comparable delays at check-in, for which the airlines are responsible.

In an effort to deflect the increasing flak, BAA recently announced changes within its senior personnel. In an unprecedented move, a chief operating officer was appointed - one component of a wider drive in which the group pledged to "put passengers' interests first". However, the appointment is viewed by some as coming too late to significantly change BAA's fortunes. At present, an investigation is underway, led by the Competition Commission, on the basis of the company over-monopolising the UK airport sector.

As far as BAA itself is concerned, its performance is getting better. As per a company spokesman: "We had the best July and August ever and in August nearly every single day the queues have been 10 minutes or less for 95 per cent of passengers."

Source - Airport International's London Reporter

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