BAA takes £24m hit from big freeze

BAA expects to take a hit of around £24Mm from last month's big freeze, which paralysed many of its airports and dented passenger numbers in the week before Christmas.

Passenger traffic at BAA airports fell 10.9 per cent in December year-on-year after last month's heavy snowfall wreaked havoc, especially at its biggest airport, London's Heathrow, where the closure of one of its two runways for several days caused widespread travel disruption.

BAA, which is majority owned by Spain's Ferrovial, on Wednesday said 7.2m passengers flew from its UK airports last month compared to eight million in December 2009.

The company said 4.8 million passengers flew from Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, in December – 9.5 per cent fewer than the same month a year ago.

Heathrow was part closed for several days in the run up to Christmas after Northern Europe's big freeze hit the travel plans of thousands as airports across Europe struggled to cope with snow and sub-zero temperatures.

"The cost of any disruption to BAA's airports is significant and a strong financial incentive for us to continue to make Heathrow more resilient," BAA's Chief Executive Colin Matthews said in a statement.

BAA has been widely criticised for its slow response to the crisis and Virgin Atlantic on Monday said it would withhold landing and parking fees it pays to BAA until it explains why a day's snowfall left thousands of air passengers stranded in the week before Christmas.

The results of an internal BAA inquiry – headed by non-executive director Prof David Begg – into the disruption, due to be published in March.

\German airline Lufthansa and its UK subsidiary BMI, are also pressing BAA to compensate airlines hit by disruption at Heathrow.

British Airways last month said it expected to take a £50m hit from the disruption.