Statement on Transport Select Committee’s Report on the disruption at Gatwick Airport during Christmas 2013

  • Member of Transport Select Committee says reports ‘do not go far enough’
  • UK Airports and Airlines need to do better
  • Gatwick Airport Management and staff made right decision on Christmas Eve 2013, and should be commended for doing so
  • Lack of buses, and particularly drivers to drive them, led to passenger movements between terminals being severely hindered, which exacerbated delays


“I welcome both the Transport Select Committee’s Report and David McMillan’s Report, but neither go far enough.


“The events at Gatwick Airport last Christmas, whereby thousands of people had their Christmas travel plans disrupted after a partial power cut caused by the flooding of electricity sub-stations, were wholly unacceptable. The Transport Select Committee, of which I am a Member, therefore quite rightly looked at the lessons to be learnt from this episode, particularly in respect of passenger welfare.  We had some interesting witness evidence sessions.


“We have concluded that such disruption should be met with well-drilled plans and have made detailed recommendations about what should be in operational resilience plans and I look forward, along with the TSC, to receiving the Civil Aviation Authority’s assessment in this regard. We have also recommended that the Government review operational agreements between airlines and airports, in particular the issue of when airports should step in and how costs should be allocated.


“While I feel these conclusions and recommendations are very sensible, I am disappointed that the Report failed to take to task the Chief Executive Officer of Gatwick Airports, Stewart Wingate, who was in my view more concerned with reputational damage limitation and PR, than acknowledging the fact that his colleagues, who made the decision to try and process as many passengers as possible on Christmas Eve, MADE THE RIGHT DECISION.


“Further both reports gloss over the fact that had there been more buses, and pointedly more drivers than the four available that afternoon, it is likely that a more timely and orderly mass movement of passengers could have taken place, ensuring a more positive outcome.  Whoever is in charge of crisis management at Gatwick Airport failed to grasp this critical information and act upon it, both on the day and perhaps subsequently.  The recommendations made now in hindsight will impact not just Gatwick, but all airports across the UK in the future - I want to make sure passengers, who have paid to travel, can do so if safe and at all possible, rather than senior executives sitting in Ivory Towers making PR led decisions that are easier for them and their shareholders.  My view is that the senior staff on the ground at Gatwick made the right call, were ably assisted by all staff that day who did their best in challenging circumstances.  But the Chief Executive should not be allowed to state that in a similar situation in the future he would cancel all flights - because he did not like the bad PR that resulted from not having a successful contingency plan on Christmas Eve 2013.


“In short, airports must ensure that their contingency planning is good enough to ensure that future disruption will be met with well-drilled arrangements that are familiar to airport operators, airlines, and other contractors, and which put passenger interests first.


“Finally, I am heartened (but not entirely convinced Gatwick Airport’s Chief Executive will have taken it onboard) that buried away in David McMillan’s Report on page 23 is this nugget, "This sober approach should certainly not lead to a “no-can-do” rebound reaction, but plans should be designed not only to deal to the maximum extent with the problem at hand, but also in line with all the resources available - to the airport and to all its partners - to execute the plan.” This to  me is one of the most important lines in the whole Report commissioned by the Board of Gatwick Airport and written by one of its own Non-Executive Directors.”


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For further information, or interview requests, please contact Karl McCartney MP at / 020 7219 7221 / 07970039767.