UK pilots union British Air Line Pilots’ Association (BALPA) believes the current fog-induced disruption at UK airports illustrates the urgent requirement for investment in more airport infrastructure, in particular a third runway at London Heathrow airport.
Flights in the UK have been severely disrupted over the last 48h as a result of dense fog across large areas of the UK, a situation exacerbated by the large numbers of people travelling for the Christmas holiday.
Operations from Heathrow have come under particular strain, and continue to face major disruption. British Airways (BA) has today cancelled all domestic flights from Heathrow and some short-haul routes for a second day running. It will operate around 40% of its short-haul services and all of its long-haul flights today.
The disruption at Heathrow stems from the implementation of low-visibility safety procedures as a result of the fog, cutting by nearly half the number of movements possible per hour, as well as some additional measures for aircraft on the ground.
But BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan argues the chaotic scenes at airports should not be happening, saying they demonstrate the fragility of the infrastructure of UK aviation.
“All professional pilots have safety as their first priority so these procedures are essential, but what Heathrow should have had by now is a third runway,” he says.
“It is appalling that in this country it takes so long to put in the airport infrastructure we need. In countries like France it can be done in a matter of a year or two. And here we are, today, still arguing about the need for a third runway for Heathrow.”
He points to the problems of Coventry, another airport heavily disrupted by the fog: “What has happened at Coventry airport should be another warning. Coventry airport is growing rapidly but while the runway is there, the infrastructure is not.
“The airport does not yet have airspace that requires an air traffic control service to link the airfield into the airway system across the country. Neither does it have it low visibility capability which is why operations have been cancelled or transferred elsewhere.
“Let us hope the [current] disruption makes the airlines that use regional airports ensure facilities are appropriate for their use – and causes passengers to demand higher standards.”