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Govt wants law to punish airports after Heathrow chaos

According to a British newspaper, the UK is mulling a new law that could fine airport operators after Christmas travel chaos at London Heathrow all but shut down the world's busiest airport for international passengers.


AFP - Britain wants to introduce new laws which could see airports heavily fined for disrupting passengers' travel in the wake of the pre-Christmas snow chaos that hit London Heathrow, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Regulators would be given new powers to fine airports tens of millions of pounds after arctic weather all but shut down Heathrow for several days, reported Britain's Sunday Times, citing Transport Minister Philip Hammond.

Hammond said it was unacceptable that BAA, the Spanish-owned operator of Heathrow which is the world's busiest airport for international passenger traffic, would face no punishment from the regulator under the current system.

"There should be an economic penalty for service failure," he said. "Greater weight needs to be given to performance and passenger satisfaction."

Regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has confirmed that there will be no fines over the Heathrow chaos, said the report.

Terminals at the airport were turned into dormitories for several days in the run-up to Christmas as angry passengers unable to fly were forced to spend the night on luggage trays used as makeshift beds.

Most flights are now operating normally but the shutdown caused outrage, with Prime Minister David Cameron at one point stepping in to offer military assistance to the operator, which BAA declined.

The plan reported on Sunday would see regulators given extra powers to impose fines for service failures through a new airport economic regulation bill. It would include penalties for failing to prepare for adverse weather conditions.

At the moment, the CAA can only impose fines in specific categories, such as passenger queues at security, seating availability and cleanliness.

The regulator could also be given powers to step in when an airport is not working effectively, the Sunday Times reported. Operators would be awarded licences that they could also be stripped of if found to be failing, it added.

"Because airports are ultimately strategic infrastructure, we probably need to have as a very last resort some powers to intervene in the way we don’t have at the moment, except where safety and security are concerned," Hammond said.

Britain's transport ministry said the proposal for the airport legislation was being finalised and it was not yet clear when it would come before parliament, according to the Sunday Times.

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