Airports to face heavy fines for future ‘service failure,’ minister warns
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
BAA, the airport operator.
But he expressed irritation that it took so long for the airport to reopen. He added that BAA should have cut flight schedules earlier on 18 December to avoid the congestion that occurred when the heavy snow fell.
The transport secretary told the Sunday Times that it was wrong that BAA, which is owned by the Spanish conglomerate Ferrovial, could face no fines under current rules for these mistakes. “There should be an economic penalty for service failure,” he said. “Greater weight needs to be given to performance and passenger satisfaction.”
Under current rules, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) can only impose financial penalties for failures such as passenger queues at security checks, lack of seating, and poor cleanliness. The maximum annual penalty is 7% of airport charges, giving a potential total of £63m.
Hammond indicated that he was prepared to use an airport economic regulation bill, which will introduce a new set of duties for the CAA’s economic regulation of airports, to allow the regulator to intervene when an airport is failing to operate effectively. Incompetent operators could be stripped of their licence to run an airport.
Hammond said: “Because airports are ultimately strategic infrastructures, we probably need to have as a very last resort some powers to intervene in a way we don’t have at the moment, except where safety and security are concerned. We have got the vehicle in the airport regulation bill to take those powers.”
Hammond said he became aware of the limited powers of the CAA when Heathrow was closed over the weekend of 18-19 December. He noted that the CAA could demand the closure of an airport but had no powers to order its reopening.
BAA welcomed Hammond’s intervention. A spokesman said: “We will of course play a full part in the government’s discussions about this year’s weather disruption and will make public the findings of our own independent investigation. We welcome legislation designed to improve the experience for passengers at the UK’s airports.”
Hammond also used his interview to announce that Network Rail is planning to fit some commuter rail lines with heated cables to prevent the network shutting down in freezing temperatures. He was struck by the success of a heat-conducting cable fitted to the third electric rail from Ashford to Maidstone in Kent.
“The heated third rail experiment in Kent has proved its worth during this [cold spell],” he said. “Network Rail will be looking to extend the use of this technology.”
The transport secretary hit back at critics who accused him of complacency last week after he said that motorways and main rail-lines had coped well during the severe weather. “The mood in the press is that I’m somehow complacent because I said that strategic roads and the rail network had coped reasonably well in the circumstances. That is my perception. They have coped reasonably well. There have been some localised significant failures. Of course roads close with huge amounts of snowfall, but the question is how quickly they get reopened.”
- guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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