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Brussels, 19 January 2011

Air transport: Vice President Kallas convenes European airports to draw the lessons from air travel disruption due to snow

Siim Kallas, European Commission Vice President in charge of transport, met today in Brussels with CEO's from major European airports to discuss how to prevent the problems that occurred at airports last month due to heavy snow fall. The adverse weather forced major EU airports to close or partially close which significantly disrupted air traffic across Europe. Several thousand passengers had to spend the night at airports and 35,000 flights were cancelled. This is more than the cancellations for the whole of 2009. The Commission will bring forward specific measures to address some of the key issues in the Airports Package which will be published later this year.

Vice President Kallas said: “Volcanic ash is difficult for the aviation industry to predict, but we know that winter arrives every year and we should be ready for it. The responsibility for devising and implementing contingency planning lies with the aviation industry. What we can do at European level is strengthen the regulatory framework - as is necessary - to help. In particular, we need to introduce minimum service and quality requirements at European airports for our passengers. Those requirements will form part of the legislative proposals in the Airport Package due later this year." (MEMO/11/28)

What happened last month?

Air travel in December 2010 was particularly disrupted. Many of Europe's larger and busiest hubs partially closed during one of the busiest weekend of the year: the beginning of Christmas holidays. Many flights were cancelled. Thousands of passengers were stranded at hubs all over Europe, but also in other parts of the world. This caused major luggage handling problems. Concerns about de-icing product shortage also affected the operations at certain airports. Overall, tens of thousands of flights were cancelled.

  • During the meeting, airports gave their practical experience and views of what had happened and the factors and deficiencies involved:

  • Heavy snow falls occurred at EU hubs that operate close to capacity and at one of the busiest period of the years.

  • Removal of the snow was too slow in many instances.

  • Heathrow, one of our major hubs and busiest airports in the EU, was closed during several days. This had a knock-on effect on other airports. Airports operate in a system.

  • Information provided to passengers was too slow to avoid the necessary waiting time at airports.

  • The threat of a lack of de-icing products disrupted and scaled-down operations at airports.

How do we ensure this does not happen again?

  • Contingency planning for snow at airports must be improved.

  • We need to ensure better co-operation between all those involved in the air and on the ground.

  • We need to ensure the proper functioning of the airline hubs. Given the knock on effects, airports overall must be integrated more strongly so they work as a network. They cannot work in isolation.

  • Passenger information must be improved, with better and more timely information about delays and re-routing.

The first responsibility for contingency planning lies with the aviation industry. What the Commission can do is to strengthen the regulatory framework – as is necessary. In particular, to ensure minimum service and quality requirements at airports for passengers.

Next steps

Looking ahead to Christmas 2011, Vice President Kallas has asked European Airports to come back to him as soon as possible with a progress report on contingency planning for next winter.

The Vice President will bring forward specific measures to address the issues outlined above in the Airports Package due in principle before the Summer.


List of CEOs attending the ACI Board Meeting, members included


  • Mr Ad Rutten (Schiphol - Amsterdam), President

  • Mr Declan Collier (DAA - Dublin), 1st Vice-President

  • Mr François Rubichon (ADP - Paris), Vice-President

  • Dr Yiannis Paraschis (AIA - Athens), Immediate Past President

  • Mr Jürg Rämi (Basel-Mulhouse), Treasurer

  • Dr Stefan Schulte (Fraport - Frankfurt), Vice-President

  • Mr Zmago Skobir (Aerodrom Ljubljana)

  • Mr Michal Marzec, Polish Airports State Enterprise (Warsaw)

  • Mr Giulio De Metrio, SEA (Milan)

  • Mr Terry Morgan (BAA – London)

  • Mr Michael Eggenschwiler, (Flughafen Hamburg)

  • Mr Herbert Kaufmann (Vienna)

  • Mr Luc Van den Bossche (BAC – Brussels)

For more details of ACI Board Members:

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