Europe's airports 'must be better prepared to avoid more winter chaos' - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Europe's airports 'must be better prepared to avoid more winter chaos'

Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport (Photo: European CommissionEurope's airports must be better prepared and be able to avoid a repeat of this winter's travel chaos, the European Commissioner for Transport has said while warning that EU legislation was looming to ensure airports drew up adequate contingency plans.

After meeting officials from several European airports that were affected, Siim Kallas, left, said the responsibility to accommodate such extreme weather conditions lay with the aviation industry but said that the EU would do all it could to help passengers.

"We know that winter arrives every year and we should be ready for it," he said. "We need to introduce minimum service and quality requirements at European airports for our passengers. Those requirements will form part of the legislative proposals in the Airport Package due later this year."

Mr Kallas insisted that "snow in Western Europe is not an exceptional circumstance [so] better preparedness, in line with what is done in Northern Europe, is not an optional extra—it must be planned for and with the necessary investment, particularly on the side of the airports."

Freezing temperatures and heavy snow saw a total of 35,000 flights across Europe cancelled in the month of December alone, with London Gatwick one of the worst affected by the cancellations.

With the freezing conditions prevailing and few signs of improving, thousands of travellers were forced to sleep overnight at European airports or attempt to make alternative arrangements out of their own pockets.

At the time of the delays, airport operators said that the volume of snow had been exceptional and that safety concerns had been their priority, but questions were asked as to why the major airports were not sufficiently prepared for conditions that are becoming a more frequent occurrence.

Meanwhile, in Strasbourg South West UK MEP Graham Watson has called on transport officials to carry out an immediate investigation into the travel disruption over the Christmas holiday period.

Addressing the January plenary session of the European Parliament taking place this week, Mr Watson said: "The failure of our airlines and our airports to deal with a few centimetres of snow caused devastating delay, disruption and despair for travellers. I call on Parliament’s transport committee, the European Union’s transport Commissioner and transport ministers in council to conduct an enquiry."

A major concern of his has been that some airlines will refuse to compensate those thousands of passengers that were affected, leading to a situation similar to that during the ash cloud disruption last year. Back then it was Mr Watson who had to intervene with major airlines in order to ensure passenger rights were upheld in line with a previous 2004 EU Airline directive (Regulation (EC) No 261/2004).

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