BAA Investing Millions to Reduce Security Waiting Time at Its Airports

AIR passengers will see queuing times at security desks reduced to no more than five minutes as a result of a multimillion-pound investment, airport operator BAA said yesterday.

BAA, which owns Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports, is to spend GBP40m across the UK including GBP6m in Scotland to improve security at all its airports over the next year.

Stephen Nelson, BAA's chief executive, said that once the process was complete it would reduce queuing at security desks to "five minutes or less for 95per cent of the time".

The investment in BAA's Scottish airports includes the recruitment of 148 security personnel and the provision of seven X-ray scanner machines and other screening facilities.

Across the UK, BAA will take on 1400 security staff and introduce 22 X-ray machines.

It is scrapping all public information desks at airports in Scotland and will bring in roving ambassadors.

The company said the static desks are not used often enough and believe a mobile staff will be more effective.

The facility at Glasgow Airport will close on April 1 and be replaced by a telephone and 15 ambassadors. The change has already been made in Aberdeen.

However, some airport users are critical of the move, claiming it will effectively cut the amount of help the public get at airports and that it was done without consultation.

The security investment came ahead of two expected referrals this week to the Competition Commission (CC) of matters relating to BAA.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is likely to make a reference to the CC about airport ownership. It says it has uncovered evidence of "poor quality and high charges".

In December 2006, the OFT said it suspected BAA's ownership of airports, the system of economic regulation of airports and capacity constraints combined to prevent, restrict or distort competition.

On Friday, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is due to send the CC its proposals on how much BAA can charge airlines to use Heathrow and Gatwick.

The proposals could result in BAA being prohibited from charging as much as it does now for the five years to 2013.

The terror security alert of August 10 last year involving an alleged plot to blow transatlantic planes out of the sky, has already cost BAA more than GBP20m. That is more than double the loss it suffered as a result of last year's industrial dispute at catering firm Gate Gourmet, where the disruption was limited to Heathrow.

BAA's operating profits for the half year to September 30, 2006, fell by nearly 12per cent to GBP389m.

Mr Nelson yesterday said that BAA was ready to make "major, long-term investments" in British airports, but warned: "The onus is on the regulatory authorities to deliver the stable regulatory system and sensible financial incentives necessary to deliver these plans."

BAA Scotland says that in 2006 and 2007 it will have spent GBP12m on improving security at its airports, including the recruitment of 86 security officers last year.

This year it will spend GBP6m in recruiting additional security officers and the installation of seven X-ray machines.

In Glasgow, 77 security staff will be recruited, two X-ray machines installed and plans are under way to expand the terminal to provide a central search area.

In Edinburgh there will be 51 security staff and four new machines, while Aberdeen will get 20 officers and one machine. BAA said the moves were partly the result of the new restrictions imposed last August. While some have since eased, BAA said passengers still face restrictions on the amount and size of items they can take through security.

The Easter getaway will be the next test of BAA's ability to to move passengers quickly and safely through airports.