London Heathrow Airport must improve its resilience to ensure that it "never closes as a result of circumstances under its control", according to the formal inquiry into its response to the severe winter weather which caused heavy disruption to services at the UK hub in December.

The inquiry, headed by BAA non-executive director David Begg, concludes that BAA's response to the snow - which led to prolonged runway closures and a significant backlog of flights - was "initially not effective".

"There were failures in communication and co-ordination within BAA, and between BAA and airlines, which led to ineffective engagement between different parties, resulting in ineffective situational awareness and a delay in response and escalation," says the inquiry, adding that "confused and conflicting messages caused incorrect signals to go to airlines, to passengers, and from airlines to passengers".

The potential impact of the snowfall was "not fully anticipated" in the days leading up to 18 December, which resulted in a "low state of preparedness ahead of the snow and insufficient stock of critical supplies".

The team behind the inquiry, which includes a panel of external airline and airport representatives, have set a target for Heathrow to remain open at all times "except for immediate safety or other emergency threats".

Achieving this "demanding target" will require a "collaborative programme of work and investment" with airlines, other airport stakeholders, UK air navigation service NATS and the UK CAA, says the inquiry.

In all, the report puts forward 14 recommendations to ensure that December's scenes of stranded passengers sleeping on the airport's floor are not repeated in winters to come.

In response to the inquiry's conclusions, BAA today said it plans to develop a £50 million ($81 million) "Heathrow resilience investment plan", which it says will allow it to implement all the recommendations contained in the Begg report.

The proposed improvements include new investment in equipment to deal with heavy snow, increased staffing resources and better training, new crisis management processes, better communication systems and improvements to passenger care and support.

"If the entire Heathrow community learns from this report, and works more collaboratively to promote passengers' interests, then this is a pivotal moment for the airport and its reputation," says BAA chief executive Colin Matthews.

"Heathrow is among the most congested airports in the world and the lack of spare capacity means that unlike any other British or European airport, we have literally no room to move when disruption occurs. This means that any problem, large or small, that slows down the rate of aircraft arriving at or leaving from Heathrow, will disrupt many people."

Click here to download the Begg Report from BAA

Source: Flight International