Airports could be fined millions of pounds for disrupting passengers travel under new plans being considered by the Government.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said he wanted the air regulators to have new powers after Heathrow ground to a halt during the big freeze last week, ruining the holidays of tens of thousands of people.
Mr Hammond told The Sunday Times it was unacceptable that BAA, which runs Britain’s busiest airport, faced no punishment from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) under the current regime.
He said: “There should be an economic penalty for service failure. Greater weight needs to be given to performance and passenger satisfaction.”
Ministers are considering a new airport economic regulation bill, which would give more powers to impose fines for a wide range of service failures.
Under the existing system, fines can be imposed by the CAA for failures like passenger queues at security and cleanliness. The maximum total penalty is said to be 7% of airport charges, resulting in a potential sum of £63 million.
BAA chief executive Colin Matthews announced he would forgo his annual bonus after last week’s extended disruption at Heathrow. The firm, which is owned by a Spanish conglomerate, found itself unable to shift snow and ice from runways and aircraft gates, paralysing the gateway for several days.
There were also flight disruptions at Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Gatwick, London Luton and London City airports and across Europe.
The EU Commission slammed the continent’s air travel disruption as unacceptable and urged airports to “get serious” about better planning for bad weather.
Meanwhile, parts of the UK enjoyed a white Christmas on Saturday as forecasters warned there would be no major respite from the cold until next year. Monday and Tuesday will see temperatures rise, becoming much milder especially in the far west. But the weather could turn to freezing again by the weekend, forecasters warned.