Heathrow snow fiasco: why Boris Johnson the bully is fuming at the wrong people.

The Slog digs deep into the Heathrow snow shambles….and finds a Spaniard in the works.

Cuddly Spanish billionaire Rafael del Pino Jr

Although very few people realised it until white imponderables began falling out of the sky last week, Heathrow (a British based Airport) is not actually British-owned at all any more.

I understand from London-based (aka trapped) ski-enthusiasts that Boris Johnson had a bit of an epi with BAA over the last forty-eight hours. Specifically, I’m told he threatened Heathrow’s owners with imminent unemployment if things weren’t back to normal by the end of the day. Well Bojo, they won’t be. And I’m not sure I understand how he could fire the airport’s owners: or more to the point, why he and his ilk shouldn’t take at least some of the blame for this fiasco.

BAA chief Colin Matthews may well be “really disappointed to have disrupted so many thousands of people’s Christmas plans”, but then he does seem at a loss to explain why Manchester is open, and Gatwick’s arrival/departure percentages are so much higher. Across the Channel, heavy snow shut down Paris’ main airport for just five hours. When the airport reopened, one in four runways was in use. At both Paris airports, the longest flight-delays were just three hours. Much of France gets less snow than we do: yet their major hub airport was prepared, and ours wasn’t. Why?

The simple answer is that – however much Mayor Johnson may rail against the Met Office – his beloved BAA privatisation and subsequent break-up had ample warning of the coming snow and ultra-low temperatures: last Tuesday every forecasting unit across the globe declared a frozen UK White Christmas ‘virtually a certainty’. But BAA (the Heathrow operator) is owned by Spanish cowboy-outfit Ferrovial – and the snow in Spain stays mainly in….well, France actually. So Ferrovial has designated snow a ‘low-risk’ factor in its airport ‘investment’ programme. I apostrophise investment there because, on the whole, Ferrovial gives the appearance of being a pretty cheapskate and unpleasant corporate concern – and one far more worried about profit than investment.

Having muscled in to take over BAA with a hostile approach some years back, in 2007 the company up and announced it would not build the proposed 30m-passengers-a-year Heathrow East terminal unless regulators allowed it to ramp up passenger charges in return. This was pure commercial blackmail, because the threat promised to shatter hopes that Heathrow might present itself as a 21stcentury international gateway for the millions of visitors for the Olympics. (Under the French setup, by the way, the Elysees would have told the hombres at Ferrovial to va t’en-fou).

Controlling Ferrovial share owner Rafael del Pino is the 84th richest man in the world, and son of Ferrovial’s founder, the self-made billionaire of the same name. (It’s all central casting Thatcherite stuff this, isn’t it? Self-made, rags to riches, anything is possible, selfish billionaire greed, nepotist inheritance, obscene ambition, etc etc).

The company’s corporate bollocks site says that Ferrovial ‘feels a connection with its clients’, which must be really uplifting for the hundreds of thousands of Brits stuck trying to get  connection out of (and into) the UK by air right now. But the stark truth is that Ferrovial is hated by pretty much everyone: from UNITE all the way through to bmi, Virgin….and even the Daily Mail.

Yes, even the Dacre Wail wrote in 2007 that Ferrovial had cut Heathrow investment in its first year of ownership by 15%, but
‘Meanwhile revenue from Heathrow has grown from £1.077billion to £1.232billion, according to the accounts from FGP Topco, the vehicle used to acquire BAA.’

In August 2008 (following his disastrous holiday plans cock-up) Boris Johnson also attacked the ‘chimpanzee-like’ mnagement of Ferrovial, the shortage of passport control staff, and the ‘snivelling and insincere’ apology he received for his pains. His election as Mayor was thought to mark a final nail in the coffin for Ferrovial- whose management he immediately condemned as ‘cowardly’ – but since then Boris has done…..diddly-doo.

The Slog suggests that in ear-bashing Colin Matthews, Bojo is tearing a strip off the monkey here. We wonder: does he have the cojones to take on the passenger-grinder?
We also wonder when those who remain dedicated Friedman-cum-Mad-Handbagites will learn that some services must be in the hands of those with business missions beyond profit and remote shareholder avarice. This doesn’t mean Government owned (that would be even worse) but rather the likes of a Branson who would be prepared to see such ownership as the putting-back bit after the initial taking out period.
And as ever, we wonder why this site has been designated 38th most popular Right-wing site…..when the main thing it believes in is the abolition of privilege, and fair play for the punter.

Related piece: The discreet complacency of the British Establishment….from the horse’s mouth