German airports strike back at EU criticism
23.12.10 @ 09:23
BRUSSELS - Germany's main airports have rejected criticism from EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas over their lack of preparedness to handle snow, as the travel chaos continues in Europe. In Britain, authorities are looking at fining airports, while the London Heathrow chief has given up his bonus amid passenger anger.
"The sudden accusations from Brussels are incomprehensible to us. We would like to invite the EU commissioner to an on-the-job-training at the airport," Stefanie Harder, spokeswoman for the Hamburg airport said, as quoted by the DPA.
Organising an airport was a "very complex matter," she argued, and security pressure was very high, as "we transport people, after all".
The EU official on Monday lashed at airports, calling their unpreparedness to deal with snow "unacceptable" as mass cancellations and delays have seen thousands of passengers stranded in terminals or scrambling to find a place on over-crowded trains and ferries.
Frankfurt, Germany's biggest airport, was particularly badly hit, and even considered sending in police to calm angry passengers. The airport was "aware of the critical tone in the media, but we don't feel concerned," its spokesman Jurgen Harrer said. With 300 people de-icing planes and lanes around the clock and 200 vehicles in service, the airport was best prepared, Mr Harrer argued. It also never lacked de-icing liquids, he pointed out, in reference to a problem seen in many European airports.
The airport in the German capital, Berlin, which was one of the hubs lacking de-freeze fluids, joined the chorus in rejecting EU criticism and blamed the supply problems on the responsible provider. "Criticism should go in that direction," a spokesman said.
In Munich, airport officials point to the fact that management plans are set out for "normal" weather conditions and "whoever thinks there is one airport in the world that can stick to those plans when there is heavy snowfall, is wrong".
British officials, however, are less sanguine about the havoc witnessed especially at London's Heathrow airport, Europe's largest air hub, which struggled to cope with the record snowfall, amid a shortage of de-icing fluids and trucks to clear all the lanes.
Under fire from passengers and media, airport chief Colin Matthews turned down his annual bonus on Tuesday, saying he was now focusing on "rebuilding confidence in Heathrow".
Meanwhile, transport minister Theresa Villiers told The Daily Telegraph that the introduction of a new "winter resilience" target which could see hefty fines imposed on airport management, had become a priority for the British government.
Fresh snowfall on Wednesday night and heavy snowstorms in Scandinavia see another round of delays and cancellations in Brussels, Amsterdam and northern Europe. In addition, fog is causing delays of up to two hours in Vienna, Prague and Athens, Eurocontrol informs.