Virgin witholds BAA charges in snow row

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SIR RICHARD Branson’s airline Virgin Atlantic has refused to pay fees owed to airport operator BAA following the chaos at Heathrow during the icy weather, and said it might take legal action.

Virgin plans to withhold bills for landing and parking planes until it sees the results of an internal BAA inquiry into the disruption, due to be published in March.

“We’re exploring our legal options but will continue talking to BAA and want the inquiry into what happened last month to be both independent and robust,” Virgin Atlantic spokesman Greg Dawson said yesterday.

Heavy snowfall paralysed BAA’s Heathrow airport the week before Christmas, leading to a spate of flight cancellations after the second runway was closed.

“We have written to BAA this weekend to advise them that we are withholding our fees from the airport operator until its inquiry into the snow enforced runway closures in December is completed,” Virgin Atlantic said in a statement.

Payments withheld by Virgin are thought to be worth less than £10m.

BAA’s parent company Ferrovial is legally entitled to seize Virgin’s aircraft for not paying bills, but the firm did not mention this option yesterday.

BMI, which complained about BAA’s fees penalising domestic flights last year, also said it was seeking compensation from BAA.

BAA said in a statement: “Heathrow’s conditions of use do not provide any basis for Virgin Atlantic or any other airline to withhold airport charges.”

It added that it is working with airlines while its enquiry progressed.