Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

Written evidence from Gatwick Airport (AWC 20)

1. Summary

1.1. Two specific periods of heavy snowfall affected Gatwick in the final weeks of last year. At the end of November into early December accumulations of up to 24cm, drifting up to 40cm in places, closed our airfield and disabled critical surface access networks. The weekend before Christmas – one of Gatwick’s busiest weekends of the year when more than 240,000 passengers were scheduled to travel – saw snowfall of 10cm close our airfield for two very brief period s . With snow causing air travel disruption across Europe , there continued to be disruption even when the airport returned to full operations.

1.2. On both occasions our main priorities were to maintain a safe pavement surface condition for aircraft operations, minimise disruption to airport operations and reduce inconvenience to airline passengers. We worked in close collaboration with our airlines, ground handlers and other airport partners, under command and control arrangements, to reopen our airfield as soon as it was safe to do so. Throughout the disruption we were dedicated to the welfare of passengers and the provision of timely communications to airport users and external audiences.

1.3. With Gatwick having come under new ownership in December 2009, the snowfall of w inter 2009/10 was the new management team’s first experience of adverse weather at the airport. The collaborative approach developed with our airport partners in Decem ber 2009 proved very useful in w inter 2009/10 a nd was enhanced throughout 2010, through workshops and table top exercises to improve preparedness for snow disruption. In the most recent snow periods, our ongoing work with airlines, ground handlers, air traffic control, emergency services, UKBA and others proved valuable in seeking to ensure adequate preparations were made ahead of, and speedy recovery from, each heavy snowfall .

1.4. Although w inter 2009/10 was described by weather forecasters as a "one in 20 year event" Gatwick invested £600,000 upgrading the airport’s snow clearing equipment and de-icer storage facilities in s ummer 2010 . We also worked with airlines and airport partners to develop and agree enhance d snow contingency plans, following ben ch marking visits to Scandinavian airports in Oslo , Helsinki and Stockholm Arlanda .

1.5. Followin g the first period of snow in late November we made an immediate decision to invest a further £8 million to double the size of Gatwick’s snow fleet from 47 to 95 vehicles, which will put our snow clearing capability on a par with that of Oslo A irport in Norway . G atwick now has 14 Shorling snow ploughs for our single runway – more than any other airport in the UK .

2. Introduction

2.1. Gatwick Airport Ltd (Gatwick ) welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the inquiry on the impact on transport of recent adverse weather conditions.

2.2. Under independent ownership since December 2008, Gatwick’s ambition is to compete to grow and become London’s airport of choice. Gatwick is the UK ’s second largest gateway and the busiest single-runway airport in the world. Directly s erving more than 200 destinations (more than any other UK airport) in 90 countries for around 33 million passengers a year, Gatwick is a major economic driver for the South-east region, generating around 23,000 on-airport jobs and a further 13,000 jobs through related activities. The airport is 28 miles south of London with excellent surface access transport links including the award winning Gatwick Express train service.

2.3. In December 2010 transport networks across Europe faced significant disruption due to snow and ice. Airports experienced operational impacts which, alongside safety considerations, resulted in flight delays and cancellations. Gatwick was affected by the adverse weather conditions on two occasions during December.

2.4. We believe we managed the impact of snow and ice professionally with a clear and constant focus on minimising disruption and inconvenience to airline passengers. We acted quickly and worked closely with our airlines, handling agents and other airport partners to reopen our airfield, after necessary closures, as soon as it was safe to do so. Throughout the disruption we were dedicated to the welfare of passengers and the provision of timely communications to airport users and external audiences.

3. Recent snowfall

3.1. England experienced its coldest December for 10 0 years in 2010. In the south-east region where Gatwick is located, t here were two specific periods of heavy s nowfall that affected airport operations and the regional transport network.

3.2. The first period, between Tuesday 30 November and Saturday 4 December saw accumulations of up to 24cm at Gatwick, drift ing up to 40cm in places, which disabled the regional transport network for days . Our airfield closed at 9.33pm on 30 November and reopened at 8.07pm on 2 December after our staff worked around the clock to clear c.150 ,000 tonnes of snow. The first passenger flight took-off at 6 .00 am on 3 December . In this first snow period, our airfield was c losed for a total duration of 46 hours and 34 minutes. Around 680 flights were cancelled and some 300 were delayed.

3.3. The second period – prior to Christmas – between Saturday 18 and Monday 20 December saw two separate snow falls at Gatwick each with accumulations of up to 10cm . O n the first occasion on 18 December o ur airfield closed at 10 .00am but reopened at 2:45pm the same day (4 hours 45 minutes) ; on the second occasion on 20 December our airfield closed at 9.00pm but reopened at 11.00pm the same day (2 hours) . During this period a 150- strong team worked tirelessly to clear around 50 ,000 tonnes of snow and ice from the airfield . Notwithstanding some inevitable delays, over 8 0 % of passengers were able make their journey .

3.4. On both occasions, in addition to the airfield snow clearance activities , our teams successfully cleared and maintained the 27.2 miles of roads surrounding the airport. Gatwick executive directors, managers and staff were deployed on both occasions to support our operations teams, airlines and partners with snow clearance, passenger welfare activities and provision of information .

4. Gatwick co-ordination

4.1. Our Airport Snow Plan was enhanced and jointly approved by airlines , business partners and the emergency services during summer 2010, following a number of stakeholder workshops and benchmarking visits to Scandinavian airports.

4.2. Our command and control contingency process was central to our ability to react swiftly and in a co-ordinated manner to minimise the impact of snow. Gatwick has a standing contingency Crisis Management Team (CMT) on-call 24/7 providing 365 days a year support our o perations teams , airlines and airport partners . W ith advance weather forecasts predicting snowfall on both occasions , the CMT convened the Joint Business Continuity Team (JBCT) comprising airlines, ground handlers, the police, UKBA , air traffic control and other partners , to meet regularly to manage the situation.

4.3. The collaborative approach of the JBCT was invaluable in managing airfield operation s and airline passenger matters in the first snow per iod. In the second snow period , following CMT meetings on 15 and 16 December, the ongoing liaison with the JBCT was combined with t he ‘Silver Command’ level of Gatwick’s contingency process when it was activat ed on the afternoon of 17 December in anticipation of imminent s nowfall. All relevant partners participated in meetings to ensure adequate preparations were made ahead of, a nd speedy recovery from, snowfall.

4.4. Following our learning from w inter 2009/10, the investment Gatwick has been making, in the first year of new ownership, in snow clearance equipment made a vital difference in enabling the airport to respond more swiftly and minimise t he impact of snow. Despite w inter 2009/10 being described by weather forecasters as a "one in 20 year event", the severity of the snowfall in November and December fully justified the 2010 summer investment and the subsequent deci sion to invest a further £8 million in new equipment.

4.5. Our investment , which w ill be completed in advance of w inter 2011/12, will double the size of o ur airport snow fleet to 9 5 vehicles . This will put Gatwick's snow clearing cap abil ity on a par with that of Oslo A i rport in Norway .

4.6. Gatwick took immediate action following the early December snow event and sought out additional equipment that was available on the market from other European airports and now has 14 dedicated Shorling snow ploughs for our single runway in addition to tractors with brushes , snow cutters, de-icing and friction testing vehicles . It took just two weeks to source, inspect, purchase, ship and make operational, six additional Shorling snow ploughs from Zurich Airport .

4.7. Our visits to Scandinavian airports during s pring 2010 enabled us to prepare robust plans for enhancing our snow fleet. This meant we were able to make the decision to invest quickly and efficiently.

4.8. Throughou t both snow periods we endeavoured to maintain regular contact with stakeholders in government, parliament, the local community and the media, providing updates on the latest situation Gatwick and how the airport was dealing with the adverse weather . The s takeholder feedback we received, and are still receiving, has been positive and supportive of our efforts.

5. Passenger welfare and information

5.1. Despite planning and preparation, the intensity of the snowfall , particularly during the first period made delays and disruption to passenger s’ journeys inevitable . We were dedicated to the welfare of passengers during the first period when we closed for over 44 hours and again during the pre-Christmas weekend , one of Gatwick’s busiest of the year with more than 240,000 passengers scheduled to travel.

5.2. During both snow perio ds we placed high importance on communi cat ing the lates t information to passengers and their friends and families. We used a range of channels to communicate with passengers including national and regional print and broadcast media, face-to-face conversations, multi-lingual leaflets and tannoy announcements, terminal information screens, our website, social media and our online inquiry service. Twitter was a very important, real-time channel during the snow periods when our number of ‘followers’ grew from 3,500 to more than 18,000 people.

5.3. W e provided free internet kiosk s and w i-fi access to enable passengers to rebook or make alternative travel arrangements. We also provided free mobile phone-charging points and distributed mobile phone chargers to passengers to help them maintain contact with friends and family.

5.4. During periods of closure we encouraged passengers who could return home and re-arrange their travel plans to do so. W e then focused on providing welfare for those who had no other option than to remain at Gatwick. We distributed thousands of bottles of water, hundreds of blankets, mattresses, cots and food to delayed airline passengers. Hundreds of office-based staff volunteered to support and assist passengers in both our terminals and this visibility was welcomed.

5.5. Our terminal operations staff and volunteers made particular efforts to identify vulnerable passengers such as families with young children, older people and passengers with reduced mobility, directing them to designated comfort zones with camp beds, drinking water, food snacks and access to 24-hour TV news. In some instances, we organised hotel accommodation at the airport. We also ensured that passengers stranded abroad did not receive additional car-parking charges.

6. Review and l essons learnt

6.1. Each post-snow review generates lessons to be learnt and these shape our future planning and preparation. Each review also highlights where we undertook best practice and exceptional performance. We have a comprehensive Airport Snow Plan which is reviewed and agreed annually with our airlines, business partners and the emergency services. Our plan incorporated significant learning from snow events in winter 2009/10 and visits to other airports, including Oslo, Helsinki and Stockholm Arlanda. Based on this we committed to invest a total of £8 million in new snow equipment .

6.2. In accordance with our Airport Snow Plan we worked very closely with our airlines, their handling agents and other airport partners, such as UKBA, to make joint decisions during the snow periods. We enjoyed strong support and collaboration from our airport partners and they will play a full and active role in implementing the lesson learnt from our recent experience and optimising our plans for the future.

6.3. Following winter 2009/10 we reviewed the processes for communicating flight status from handling agents and airlines to enable general messages on the airport status to be viewed by passengers. We improved direct access to Met Office and Hubcast weather forecast data.

6.4. We also made improvements to our welfare plans for passengers and the communication with associated support groups. We enhanced our staff volunteer processes to ensure clarity on roles, tasks, communication structures and resourcing.

6.5. Prior to the snow events we had been reviewing our CMT structure. Gatwick historically had a ‘Snow Cell’ to co-ordinate the joint response to clearing our airfield and returning it to normal operations in the event of adverse weather . Following the first period of heavy snowfall we introduced a number of changes which were in place by 18 December including the amalgamation of the Snow Cell with the ‘Silver Command’ level of Gatwick’s contingency process. Th is improve d the speed and efficiency of decision making and communication.

6.6. Disruption to the transport network, and rail services in particular, was a significant issue during the recent snow events, particularly the first period. Gatwick rail station is the busiest airport rail station in the UK, with some 12 million journeys each year. Given the severe nature of the conditions a certain amount of rail disruption was inevitable. However, in early December this continued for some time after we had reopened the airport and the road system was cleared.

6.7. This impacted passengers’ journeys to and from Gatwick but also, importantly, the ability for airport staff to travel to work. This created an additional constraint on our ability to return to a full operating schedule and caused significant overcrowding at Gatwick station. We will meet with the train operating companies and Network Rail to review this situation.

7. Conclusion

7.1. The safety of passengers and airport users will always be our main priority during any adverse weather situation. Our decisions are, and will be, driven by concern for their welfare. We sought to address the impact of the two snow periods in the final weeks of last year in a professional manner. We worked closely with our airlines and other airport partners to reopen the airfield as soon as it was safe to do so. Our communication activities both to passengers and external audiences were managed effectively.

7.2. During the first snow period we spoke with Dr David Quarmby, who the Transport Secretary commissioned to carry out an audit on his earlier Winter Resilience Review. In his report, Dr Quarmby said he was aware the Ga twick area had been subject to unprecedented weather systems and he indicated that he believed we had done everything possible to address the situation.

7.3. Looking ahead, there may well be more snowfall before the winter season ends. We have made significant investments to optimise our ability to manage such events and will work with our partners, on and off the airport campus, to minimise disruption to operations and any inconvenience to passengers. However, it should be recognised, that even with sound preparations and enhanced snow clearing equipment , it is likely that heavy and persistent snow events in the future will cause some disruption to normal operations at Gatwick A irport .

February 2011