London Heathrow delivers update on winter resilience

London Heathrow Airport has published a Winter Resilience Programme Update detailing the progress being made to ensure the airport is better prepared in the event of extreme winter weather.
Following the severe weather of December 2010, BAA asked Professor David Begg to chair an enquiry to establish how BAA, working with the airline community, NATS and the CAA, could increase Heathrow’s resilience to disruption in order to improve passengers’ experience of the airport. The Enquiry made 14 recommendations which BAA accepted and agreed to implement in full.
The new update comes six months after the publication of the Enquiry Report and details the work undertaken so far to implement the recommendations.
The work has been grouped into three main areas: snow planning and preparation; crisis management command and control; and passenger welfare and information.
Key areas of progress are as follows.
Heathrow has:
• Tripled the number of vehicles available for snow clearance compared to December 2010, with a total fleet of 185 vehicles.
• Increased the total number of staff available for snow clearance from 117 to 468 per shift.
• Introduced a new ‘reservist’ role which will see up to 950 non-operational staff deployed to terminals to help passengers during disruption.
• Agreed with airlines, NATS and ACL (the company responsible for allocating slots at Heathrow) a new process for managing the necessary flight cancellations during disruption so that passengers receive more timely and accurate information about whether their flight is operating.
• Initiated plans for a new airport control centre.
• Improved the support and information we provide to passengers during disruption.
So far, the airport has committed to investing £32.4 million in implementing the recommendations.
Normand Boivin, Heathrow CEO, said: “Much has been done to improve Heathrow’s response to severe winter weather and there is more still to do.
“There will be lots of attention on Heathrow the next time it snows heavily. We won’t be perfect but we will be better, and we will improve each time we practise our new response plans.
“There will still be times when for safety reasons airports have to close during severe weather, but the work detailed in the report means that this should happen less often at Heathrow and that the airport community responds better when it does. “
Philip Langsdale, CIO and Winter Resilience Programme Director, said:
“Heathrow Airport has worked constructively with airlines, air traffic control and other parties to implement the enquiry’s recommendations, and we are all determined to make further progress. The work done so far has taken the coordination and collaboration of many different organisations.
“Our priority has been to ensure we can be prepared for extreme weather ahead of the event so that we can better inform passengers and airlines of our plans. The work achieved so far will help us to serve passengers better at Heathrow on days when there isn’t snow just as much as on those rare occasions when there is.“
Following the publication of the Enquiry’s report, the Heathrow Winter Resilience Programme was set up with a focus on three initiatives:
1. Snow preparation and planning
2. Command and control
3. Passenger welfare and communication
Across the three initiatives, 57 specific activities were identified and a dedicated Programme Office established to implement the work. The programme was delivered with four guiding principles:
1. Passenger interests have top priority;
2. Work in collaboration with other airport stakeholders;
3. Integrate best practice and recommendations from some of the best performing airports in the world; and
4. Drill and test all new procedures.
Snow preparation and planning
As a result of the first initiative, 72 additional snow clearing vehicles have been purchased and there is increased storage capacity for airfield and aircraft de-icer. We have also increased the number of staff available to work on the airfield from 117 to 468 per shift.
New, more coordinated, procedures for clearing aircraft stands with greater efficiency have been trialled, and a dedicated area for storing snow will be made available as well as a new system for moving and storing snow off-site.
The airport, airlines and ground handlers are continuing work on making the de-icing of aircraft more efficient. Full testing of snow clearance plans is on-going, and more capacity for storing de-icer and grit is being built at a site close to Heathrow.
The airport has also appointed a full-time Winter Operations Manager who will work on winter resilience year-round.
Command and control
There has been an overhaul of the airport’s command and control structures, so that they now match the Gold, Silver, Bronze structure used by the emergency services. More than 400 staff have been trained on the new crisis response plans.
In order to communicate more timely and accurate information to passengers and ensure that the greatest possible number of flights can depart, Heathrow has a new agreement in place with airlines, ACL, and NATS for potentially reducing the number of flights in advance of, during or following major disruptions. We aim to be proactive in reducing the number of flights operating in advance of a forecast event to improve the resilience of the airport and provide greater clarity to passengers.
Over the next two months, a series of computer-aided simulations will test airport coordination with complex and challenging scenarios that will also include the active participation of non-BAA airport stakeholders.
Plans for a new airport control centre are also underway.
Passenger welfare and communication
A new role of reservist has been created, training up to 950 non-operational staff to support terminal operations during a period of mass disruption. Also in place are new arrangements with third-party contractors to provide support to passengers at short notice. Staff in terminals will have mobile devices including laptops and iPads to help provide passenger information.
Enhanced stocks of emergency passenger provisions have been established. Pre-agreed plans are in place for providing vouchers to passengers during major disruption so that they can buy food or drink, and new agreements are also in place with airport retailers to extend opening hours and maintain key supplies such as baby food and basic medical supplies.
The airport has also started work on redesigning heated marquees that are sometimes used to provide extra space if terminals become congested. This will mean that marquees have facilities such as catering, power and electronic flight information displays. The airport has also agreed that free wi-fi facilities may be provided for passengers during disruption so that it is easier for people to contact friends and family or rebook online.
Heathrow also has new arrangements that allows it to offer a free Heathrow Express service to London; mobilise free ‘hotel hopper’ buses to transport passengers around the airport; and ensure that people who are using official Heathrow Airport car parks are not charged for overstays in the event of major disruption.