Published on 22 Dec 2010

Snow on the snow – at Gatwick

I am standing on a 20 foot high mound of congealed snow which stretches as far as my eye can see. This is part of some 250,000 tonnes of snow that have been cleared from this airport, Gatwick, in the last two weeks.

Gatwick has been blessed with some quick-witted leadership, that spotted six second-hand snow ploughs being sold off by Zurich airport. It has made all the difference.

The first big snow dump last week closed the airport for just four hours. The second, on Monday night, for less than 2 hours.

The disruption to passenger traffic has been far less than at Heathrow.

But then, the company that owns Gatwick, GIP – a private equity company –  is throwing very large sums of money at sorting this place out.

In total, they will be spending £1bn on renewing the entire airport. But on snow clearance alone, they are immediately spending £8m.

It will give them the snow clearing capacity of Norway’s Oslo airport. The Chief Executive, Stewart Wingate, told me that when the snow fell on Monday night, with the extra snow ploughs, they were able to run nine of these massive machines abreast down the runway and clear it in one go.

Plane movements here appear to be normal. 45 take-offs every hour. To Africa, Europe, the Far East and the Caribbean.

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17 reader comments

  1. Meg Howarth says:

    Don’t want to pour cold water anywhere in these still-icy conditions, but seem to recall that Gatwick didn’t escape closure completely. Hope CE Wingate hasn’t bewitched your memory. Over at Heathrow, it seems BAA’s CE Matthews is paying for the shambles with his bonus.

    Question remains, though, as to why we should expect to travel around the world in all weathers, just as we expect to eat unseasonal foods at all times. NB on a north London note, sorry to hear that the organic store which supplies my fortnightly bag of veg, delivered by the delightful George, is facing closure. Its landlord seems to have other plans.

    1. Lamb says:

      No thats precisely what Jon Snow said. Gatwick had only closed for two short periods whilst they cleared the snow – thats reasonable He did not say it had not closed.

  2. Gavin Wallbridge says:

    Eurostar – a triumph of process and procedure over common sense. I travelled back from Paris today – Eurostar are not taking any bookings until after 24th December – people are being advised to travel to Calais and get the ferry and yet – standard class had 250 empty seats and Premium Class was virtually empty !!! – madness, absolute madness. (the train was only 2/3rds full.

  3. rtree says:


    The guy in charge of Heathrow, like Vince Cable requires to take a serious look at their ability to handle their remit. Perhaps, it is time for both of them to catch a flight themselves to a far off destination and give us all a break, for a long time.


  4. Nicole null Maxted says:

    When are you going to stop talking about problems at Heathrow & Gatwick? It is not a tragedy, nobody has died; some people have been inconvenienced. We can’t get to my son’s in Devon for Christmas because they are snowed in. So maybe we’ll get there for the New Year. It’s not a catastrophe.
    Nicole Maxted

  5. adrian clarke says:

    A private company that needs to make a profit so works flat out to satisfy its customers , against a private foreign company deep in debt that ignores its customers.
    I have seen it in close up these past weeks of snow .We are a delivery service to two local communities and surrounding rural areas.Some of the testimonials we have received are absolutely brilliant.It is about what true Britishness is .Serving and helping each other through hardship the best one can .A pity that all companies and in particular some unions do not respect those that pay their way and only think of themselves.

    1. Saltaire Sam says:

      Adrian, you can’t make a right-wing, andit-europe point out of every situation. Both are private companies needing to make a profit – one got it right, the other got it wrong.

      The unions had nothing to do with it in either case.

      And contrary to Daily Mail and other pedlars of fairy stories, it is not only the Brits who serve and help each other.

    2. adrian clarke says:

      Saltaire, i can try .and a Merry Christmas to all my Socialist and Red friends plus the couple or so supporters:)

  6. Dave says:


    Watched your report and understand why you went to Gatwick as it had faced almost identical weather conditions. However could I suggest that you make some mention of what happened north of Watford. It is very obvious that BAA are not fit to run major airports and the fact that the chief executive had to say he was not taking his bonus rather that the company announcing that he was not going to receive any bonus speaks volumes.
    Could I ask you to please make some mention of Manchester airport.
    The major difference with it are.
    Owned by a consortium of the local authorities. So profits are shared by the local community.
    Manchester airport actually took flights from Heathrow. Passengers were taken by bus to Manchester to board flights.
    When is this country going to break the Heathrow mith?


    1. Saltaire Sam says:

      Snow and ice are not a story until the inconvenience the south :-) Just like unemployment.

  7. Mudplugger says:

    The fact that a key airport like Heathrow can generate such monumental chaos from a weather-event simply highlights the folly of ‘vanity projects’ like huge hub airports and high-speed train lines.

    Anyone experienced in utility service planning will tell you that, where you are not in control of a key element, like weather or terrorism or strikes, your first tactic is to spread the risk.

    If more long-haul air-traffic was routed through our regional airports, not only would the whole ‘network’ then be more robust from all threats, it would also eliminate so much unnecessary and inefficient internal travel to, and congestion around, the vulnerable hub.

    Trouble is, having the ‘biggest airport in the world’ and the ‘fastest train-set’ are just bigger toys for bigger boys – it’s the “mine’s bigger than yours” playground game – it’s pure vanity, with no thought for the real cost-benefits, logistics, operations or customer needs.

    As long as we’ve got a bigger airport than France or Germany, who cares if falls over big-time now and again ? Well I do, and it’s time Phil Hammond and his transport strategists grew up and learnt about proper contingency planning design.

  8. margaret brandreth- jones says:

    Nice photo of you Jon. Manchester airport has been fine.

  9. Al says:

    Interesting comments, the fact that Heathrow is owned by a foreign company, has no bearing on how the snow problem was dealt with. The persons responsible for the day to day running of this airport is not controlled by the owners but by the people who are paid extravagant sums of money to ensure the smooth operation at the airport, yes the management did not think on their feet in the same way the management did at Gatwick. Interestingly las time we had snow Gatwick was closed and it was chaos, Heathrow kept open, but no such drama was made of it, interesting!! The fact that people could not fly is less dramatic than planes landing and then ending up going into the grass such as happened at Birmingham. It seems that anything bad that happens is almost played down, except when it comes to Heathrow, some biased reporting, or is that not possible in this politically correct country!!

  10. BarkingDog says:

    So, why did Gatwick turf out all of the people in departures at 2200 by announcing they were snow bound and tell them they would reopen at 0600? One can only assume it was economics as the 30mm of the stuff recently fallen didn’t seem to make much of a dent. They spend the entire night telling people to go elsewhere via rail or road and not to come back until they had a confirmed flight (I did) when, in spite of the train station being open there was very little running and the hire car desks were reporting “fully book” or only hires that came back to Gatwick even though it appeared they had plenty of stock. I got a night on the concrete that I was fortunately prepared for where many were not and had small children. Some had been there three days… I’m not chuffed but use the place as a bus station so will suffer there lack of consumer care and, frankly, there staff need training in customer relations as an endless loop all night, every ten minutes, of “Go somewhere else, you’re not our problem” isn’t anyway to carry on. I can’t type in here what I really feel about the way they manage themselves but it could easily be summed up in a few choice Anglo-Saxon words.

  11. Dave Robins says:

    Perhaps you could ask Colin Matthews how BAA have the nerve to still demand that Heathrow needs a third runway when they can’t even manage the airport the size it is now? They were a national embarassment over the fiasco they made of the Terminal Five opening and they are making us look like a laughing stock again this week.The coalition made a decision in May against further Heathrow expansion but BAA have continued to whine on about it when they should have been buying up more snow ploughs instead.

  12. John Couzin says:

    With all this talk of very cold weather I was wondering if you had seen this article on the Gulfstream and what your opinion was on the line taken.

  13. BOB PERHAM says:

    Can anyone please tell me why people use their 4-way flashers while driving in a snowstorm? I drove home last night in a blizzard in New York on the Long Island Expressway and the biggest problem that I had was identifying which cars were stopped (stuck) and needed to be avoided from the morons that were driving slowly with their 4-way flashers on. Additionally, I suppose that the people with their flashers on that weren’t actually “stuck” in the snow, were too stupid to realize that when they had to go around the truly “stuck” vehicles, weren’t signaling to people behind them when changing their position on the road with their turn signals because of their 4-way flashers. I guess that these people (approximately 60% of the cars on the road) “THINK” that they are being “safe” but they are the main cause of danger to people who realize that it is snowing and don’t need to be told that it is snowing. It is the MOST stupid thing that I have ever seen. I can’t understand that they don’t have the common sense to turn off their flashers if they are not stuck when they encounter the problem of not being able to identify which vehicles ahead of them don’t need to be driven around.

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