British airports boss apologises for Christmas chaos

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The boss of British airports operator BAA apologised Monday for chaos at London Heathrow as freezing weather threatened to ruin Christmas plans for "many thousands" of people.

"I'm really disappointed to have disrupted so many thousands of people's Christmas plans," BAA chief executive Colin Matthews told BBC radio.

"It's absolutely distressing and heart-breaking to have been in the terminals and confronted with individuals, each with their stories of really sad and disappointing outcomes.

"I couldn't be more sorry."

The company, which was bought by Spanish construction group Ferrovial in 2006, has come under intense pressure in recent days over its handling of freezing weather conditions that have gripped much of Britain.

Hundreds of Christmas travellers faced a third day stranded at Heathrow airport on Monday as icy conditions sparked a fresh round of flight delays and cancellations.

Heavy snow and thick ice all but closed Heathrow, the busiest international passenger air hub in the world, over the weekend and forced holidaymakers to set up camp at the airport on Saturday night.

BAA operates London's Heathrow and Stansted airports, as well as Southampton in southern England and Aberdeen in Scotland. It sold Gatwick to a US group last year.

Matthews vowed on Monday to investigate how the company could have improved its performance.

"We are going to have to crawl over the details of what's happened over the last few days as soon as we've got the time to do that," he said.

"In the meantime, our absolute concentration is on clearing the stands and getting the aircraft departing.

"It's too soon for me to give you a forensic analysis but we are absolutely focused on getting people to where they want to be."

He added that it "may well be" that the company needed to buy more equipment to combat the effects of freezing weather.

© 2010 AFP

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