The European Commission warned airports on Wednesday of looming regulation to prevent a repeat of the Christmas travel chaos and demanded to see battle plans for next winter.
European transport commissioner Siim Kallas held a meeting with top executives from the biggest airports after December snow forced passengers to sleep at terminals when tens of thousands of flight were cancelled.
"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," Kallas said, referring to the Icelandic volcano eruption in April that closed much of Europe's airspace.
"If you have 30 centimetres of snow suddenly in central Europe it is something very exceptional. But if you have one centimetre of snow and you still have announcements that flights are cancelled, this I consider unacceptable," he said.
The transport commissioner urged airports to prepare winter contingency plans and make them public by October, adding that one key issue to correct is the lack of information provided to passengers.
At the same time, Kallas said he would add a proposal to ensure airports provide a minimum service during a weather crisis to a package of legislation on liberalising the industry, which will be presented this summer.
But he ruled out any legislation that would allow passengers to sue airports in such situations, saying the system provides for people to seek redress through their airlines which in turn seek compensation from airports.
Thousands of people were forced to sleep at airports, including in London, Paris and Brussels, last December after a range of snow-related problems, from runways not being ploughed to ground crew running out of de-icing liquid.
The commission said 35,000 flights were cancelled last month -- more than for the whole of 2009.
At the height of the snow crisis in December, Kallas had summoned airport officials to explain themselves in Brussels, blasting their handling of the travel chaos as "unacceptable."
Kallas said a meeting with representatives from the entire aviation industry, from airports to airlines and ground handling services, would be held in March to discuss how to share risks and responsibilities.
Last week, British airports operator BAA which operates six airports in Britain including Heathrow, said the recent harsh wintry weather had cost the company £24 million (29 million euros, $38 million).
Heavy snow and thick ice all but closed Heathrow, the busiest international passenger air hub in the world, exacting a humble apology from BAA chief executive Colin Matthews.
BAA has set up an independent inquiry into the poor performance of its Heathrow operations last month. The findings are due in March.
The Association of European Airlines said the snow chaos, coupled with strikes and the volcano ash crisis, had put the brakes on the industry's recovery last year.
Source: AFP Global Edition