Better procurement needed to avoid snow chaos

28 March 2011

28 March 2011 | Lindsay Clark

A supply shortage of de-icer caused a runway at Heathrow Airport to be closed longer than necessary during the winter freeze, according to the Reportof the Heathrow Winter Resilience Enquiry.

Commissioned by airport owner BAA, the report said the forecast level of de-icer stocks influenced the decision to maintain single-runway operations at the UK’s largest airport between Saturday 18 December until the following Tuesday. The situation changed when the weather forecast improved and additional supplies were sourced.

At the time, the supply of de-icer was hit by distribution problems, so BAA sought an alternative source. However, concerns over another bout of snowfall hitting supply affected the decision to keep the second runway closed.

“Had there been greater certainty around the availability and supply of sufficient stocks of [de-icing] media, a dual-runway operation could have been restored sooner,” the report said.

The severe winter weather in the UK during December caused disruption to Heathrow’s operations on a number of fronts. The report revealed that more than 4,000 flights were cancelled, causing significant impact to airline schedules globally, and Heathrow Airport’s reputation was damaged.

The review panel added that stocks of other emergency supplies, such as blankets, food and water, available for stranded passengers were insufficient to cope with the high number in the terminals. It recommended that BAA dynamically maintained its stock of de-icer and other emergency supplies at levels that are driven by the weather forecast, expected rate of use, reliability of supply and other factors.

BAA said it would implement all the reports’ recommendations with a £50 million Heathrow resilience investment plan, which it will put to airlines and the Civil Aviation Authority in April.

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews set up the independent Heathrow Winter Resilience Enquiry to assess its performance during the period of disruption and to recommend changes.

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