6 DECEMBER 2010
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The simply astonishing weather in the United Kingdom last week has predictably caused vociferous criticism of airport operators. It was snow and yet more snow. Airports for the most part were closed and it did not help that over the weekend just past Spanish air traffic controllers went on strike causing even more chaos.
But was this censure justified?
The operation of civil aircraft is a complex process. When snow is falling in great quantities it is not just a question of sweeping the runways clear. And the aprons. And the taxiways.
All staff have to get to the airport whether it is those dealing with the aircraft in the air, the flight deck and cabin crew, plus the air traffic controllers, or on the ground.
Firstly, and in no particular order, the check-in staff and baggage handlers, the security personnel, the refuellers and ramp people, and, whilst clearly not crucial, the retail outlet staff. The fire and emergency personnel probably top the list. Fuel actually has to be delivered to the airport, and also catering (and this one too is not essential). An airport operation is very complex.
Finally it is not much use operating to a schedule if the passengers cannot get to the aerodrome, but it is astonishing that in spite of atrocious conditions somehow fans will make soccer matches. Arsenal more or less managed a full house when most of north London had given up. Likewise with airports. If travellers are assured of getting away they somehow make it.
AERBT believes that on balance airports need to do a great deal more in preparation for the worst of winter conditions. Gaining publicity with advanced runway clearance equipment may be fine but that is only one element of a very multifaceted process.
A great many lessons need to be learnt from last week’s fiasco.
Airports will have to appreciate that it may have been a one off, but it could happen again before Christmas, maybe again before winter is out and definitely into the future. Nobody can predict with certainly when. Money has to be spent and notice should be taken on how worse conditions are dealt with in Canada and Northern Europe. Airfields in those parts also close too due to fearsome circumstances but somehow the services get going again far, far quicker.
Roll on summer.
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