As frustration increases among passengers stranded at UK airports, an aviation expert tells Channel 4 News the airlines are doing their best in very difficult conditions.
A Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesperson said that it is not the case that European airports are coping better than the UK with the weather conditions, although he said Russian and Scandinavian airports are better prepared as they generally have more days of snow and ice.
“A lot of the problems happen because of logistical issues,” he said. “Aircraft can be caught in the wrong place when the snow falls, and then they are stuck on stands and have to be dug out before they can move.
“That causes a knock-on effect with aircraft trying to come in and land, but they can’t because other aircraft have been snowed in.
It is frustrating for passengers, but the airports are trying to open as quickly as they can. CAAspokesperson
“Aircraft also need to be de-iced. If temperatures remain below zero for most of the day, they might have been de-iced once, but they can freeze up, so need it again.”
“A special chemical is diluted with hot water and sprayed all over the aircraft by a special truck, like a fire engine. The truck has to squirt the hot water solution all over the wings and the bodywork. It takes quite a while to do each plane. At an airport like Heathrow, there might be 200 planes, and each one can take 20 minutes to half an hour to be de-iced.
“Safety is the number one priority. It is vital the wings, flaps and slats are free of ice so they don’t get stuck when the aircraft takes off.”
“It’s not just the runway, all the taxiways have to be cleared so aircraft can move safely to the runway. The area around where the aircraft is parked also has to be cleared for all the vehicles which need to reach it, like the baggage trucks and fuel lorries.
It is vital the wings, flaps and slats are free of ice so they don’t get stuck when the aircraft takes off. CAA spokesperson
“It is a huge amount of snow. At Heathrow, they have in the region of 200 stands which have a place for a plane to park as well as maneouvring area for vehicles. Each one must be nearly the size of a football pitch. From each of those stands at Heathrow, they have had to move 30 tonnes of snow over the weekend. It all has to be put in lorries and carted off somewhere and that is before you even start to de-ice the aircraft, then the taxi ways and the runway itself.
“It is a big job for airports. The staff seem to be doing the best they can. It is vital that safety is put first, they can not cut corners. It is frustrating for passengers, but the airports are trying to open as quickly as they can.”