Snow hampers UK airports yet again
So over the weekend, we had the first dab of this winter's snow, and yet again several of our major airports ground to a halt. Yet again, we are forced to accept that the wrong type of snow, or as Ed Milibland would put it, snow falling too fast and too soon, can be allowed to play havoc with our transportation system.
I can just about accept the weather excuse if genuinely extreme weather shuts down parts of our rail network. Let's consider a journey between London and either of Scotland's two main cities. Edinburgh and Glasgow are both around 400 miles away from London, depending on which method of transport is taken and which route is used.
Last winter, Virgin Trains managed to keep all their services moving, so they've been boasting about their preparedness this year. However, a railway line is only as good as its weakest link, so it would only, for example, take one blockage in the Shap Pass in the Lake District to bring down the whole route.
On the other hand, airports, by virtue of needing a large amount of flat space for taxiing and takeoff, are virtually never situated in such locations (easyJet aren't planning any flights to Lukla in the Himalayas any time soon either). I'm also not aware of any circumstances in which a flight would have to be diverted mid-air (excluding snow blocking the arrival airport) due to oncoming snow -- hail and ice have brought down aircraft before, but snow should not be a problem.
In order to operate a typical domestic flight in the UK using a 150 seater aircraft, and airport needs about a mile of runway. Throw in taxiways and a runway at the other end for landing, and you're still looking at much less than 4 miles of infrastructure. On other words, this is less than 1% of the equivalent motorway or railway. How can we be so badly prepared?
Ironically, it is probably because we only get snow some of the time, instead of most or all time, like many continental European airports during winter. Do you ever hear of flights to Zurich or Geneva getting cancelled because of snow? That would be a total embarrassment -- firstly ski holidays should never succumb to the very weather conditions that are needed to make them possible, and secondly the Swiss, with their reputation for second-perfect punctuality would never accept it.
So whatever airport bosses like to say about being caught unawares yet again, as the Scottish comedy goes, it really is only an excuse.