August 24, 2008

Sell the Airports to Make Us Safer

By Fiona Mcintosh

AS we relax over the long weekend, our thoughts are with the 153 people who lost their lives in the Spanair disaster. For there by the Grace of God go any of us.

The men, women and children who died in the air crash were ordinary holidaymakers on their way to the Canaries. They probably hadn't given air safety a second thought. But maybe it's time we did.

As soaring fuel prices put the squeeze on cheap airlines, it must be tempting for these struggling companies to cut costs. Only last week the BAA, who own many of the UK's airports, were slammed by the Competition Commission for their poor management and chronic under- investment.

If you've been to Gatwick lately you'll know it's the Seventh Circle of Hell. So the Competition Commission told us what we already knew - that Spanish-owned BAA is guilty of shambolic customer service, overcrowded facilities and laughable delays. The situation is so dire BAA could be forced to sell off two of their three London airports and either Glasgow or Edinburgh.

It's criminal that in a country as wealthy and civilised as Britain we have Third World airports.

It's a huge national embarrassment to stand in a chaotic airport next to passengers from other countries with functioning airports, wondering if you'll ever get out of there. Heathrow might be one of the most important international airports, yet it has one of the worst records in the world for delays.

Now, after the horrendous crash in Madrid, anything that compromises standards in our airports must be cracked down on.

It's not a question of why BAA should be forced to sell up, but why it hasn't happened earlier.

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