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Airports Council International

Europe’s airports – putting safety and passengers first

As several major airports in Western Europe deal with record extremes in December weather, ACI EUROPE reported that affected airports have been doing their utmost to maintain operations whenever possible and assist stranded passengers. 

Attempts by some media outlets to brand the current situation as equal to the impact of the volcanic ash cloud last April are exaggerated. They ignore the difference in the scope and impact of the disruptions, which stem from the localised nature of the current winter weather conditions. The fact remains that 88% of flights planned to and from European airports took place yesterday.
 
Aside from the localised impact of weather conditions, the current situation also reflects variations in airport infrastructure configurations and layouts, runway and apron capacity as well as local air traffic control restrictions. The key concern at the heart of every decision made is passenger safety.
 
To those who ask why airports in Northern countries can routinely deal with snow and ice with minimal disruption to operations, the key variable in play is temperature. When temperature is consistently subzero and snow and ice remains frozen, it is easier to deal with than the inconsistencies resulting from fluctuating temperatures and changing surface friction. The safety procedures regarding these conditions are clear and uncompromising.  
 
Airports affected by the recent onslaught of extreme weather have been doing all they can to assist stranded passengers:
 
Among the affected hubs, London-Heathrow brought in extra staff and provided free beds, blankets, water and food. Amsterdam-Schiphol provided free camp beds, tea, coffee, sandwiches and WiFi to over 2,700 passengers last weekend. Brussels Airport also provided free camp beds, meals, refreshments, on-site medical support and cartoons for kids to 3,300 passengers over several nights. In Germany, Frankfurt Airport provided camp beds, refreshments and entertainment to over 1,000 passengers over the weekend.
 
Point-to-point airports also stepped up their operations to deal with the situation. London-Gatwick has boosted staff numbers on-duty and has provided free camp beds, water and WiFi. Charleroi Airport worked with the Red Cross to provide more than 800 beds, providing free phone calls and as well as chartering 11 coaches to bring passengers to nearby cities.
 
ACI EUROPE reiterated that the airport site is a complex, collaborative space. The full spectrum of flight operations and passenger services relies on the efficient interaction and partnership of several independent players including airport operators, airlines, ground handlers, air traffic control, caterers and others. The airport operator does not have legal authority and operational control over the behaviour and performance of every company on the airport site – in particular when it comes to independent ground handling companies.
 
This is the root of the problem which occurred at Brussels airport yesterday, where independent ground handling companies experienced difficulties in securing adequate de-icing products, which in turn disrupted flight operations. All services and facilities controlled by the Brussels Airport Company were and remain fully functional.
 
While the immediate situation at Brussels airport appears to be resolved, this incident shows the need for European regulation to take such complexity into account and empower airports accordingly.
 
Olivier Jankovec Director General, ACI EUROPE commented “For quite a while, we have been calling for airports to be given appropriate authority to control how their infrastructure is being used by others. The forthcoming revision of EU legislation on ground handling is the opportunity to allow airports to set minimum operational standards for ground handlers in relation to service quality and safety.”
 
He added “2010 has been a memorable year, with new security threats, the volcanic ash shock, industrial action by air traffic controllers and airlines as well as extremely harsh weather. Throughout, Europe’s airports responded appropriately, with adequate crisis contingencies well in place. That no airport went on strike in 2010 only further reinforces the fact that Europe’s airports provide dependable infrastructure and services.”    

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