With respect, I think the argument that “we cannot expect BAA to prepare in advance for such extreme weather” – which is trotted out with religious enthusiasm by BAA’s spokespeople and apologists – needs to be challenged.
The argument hinges on three factors
1) the frequency of the extreme weather
2) the cost of the disruption if the preventative action is not taken
3) the cost of the preventative action
BAA’s defence relies on everyone assuming that the answers to these are
1) very infrequent
2) not very high
3) very high.
I would argue that all three of these assumptions are wrong.
On the first, the number of days of snow delays seems to be increasing, and as this is the third winter running where we have had this snow it is no longer defensible to claim it is a “once in 30 years event”. On the second, the cost of the disruption is simply huge – if you add together working time lost, business lost, personal costs, plans disrupted and the damage tto the UK’s reputation, I would not be surprised if an economist could not find a figure of hundreds of millions of pounds. And on the last – the cost to BAA of preventative measures – they are very carefully completely silent, but I doubt it runs to £10 million.
So I dispute the standard argument that it is not worth spending money to forestall this chaos next time. We have an event which looks like happening much more regularly, costs a fortune to the country every time, and can be prevented at a fraction of the cost. Indeed, taking the economy as a whole, any money BAA had spent before the last few days’ disruption would probably have been paid back in this snow event alone!
The rub is though that the cost is to BAA, and the benefit is to passengers, citizens, taxpayers and the country as a whole. So BAA, being a selfish profit-maximising company, will not spend the money unless forced to. Perhaps a fine of £100,000 for every plane which did not fly might persuade them?