UK watchdog slams Heathrow, Gatwick over queues

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LONDON, Oct 3 (Reuters) Britain's competition watchdog has slammed London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports for their level of service to passengers, particularly their failing to manage queues, and called for service regulations to be tightened.

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said today that, in response to criticisms made by the Competition Commission, it would now work on proposals to improve service.

''The Commission has found that Heathrow and Gatwick airports, in failing to manage security queuing and queue times to avoid unacceptable delays to passengers, crew and flights, have acted against the public interest,'' the CAA said in a statement.

''The Commission proposes that these effects can be remedied through a broadening and strengthening of existing service quality regulations.'' Heathrow and Gatwick airports are run by BAA, a unit of Spanish construction group Ferrovial.

The Competition Commission also published its views on price controls for Heathrow and Gatwick for the five years starting April 1, 2008.

It recommended that maximum airport charges at Heathrow should be set at 10.96 pounds in 2008/09, with charges subsequently rising by no more than retail price index (RPI) inflation plus 7.5 per cent a year.

For Gatwick, it recommended a maximum charge of 5.48 pounds in 2008/09, with subsequent annual increases of no more than RPI inflation minus 0.5 per cent.

This compares with projected charges for 2007/08 of 9.28 pounds per passenger at Heathrow and 4.91 at Gatwick, and the CAA's recommendation in March 2007 for maximum Heathrow charges of 10.29 pounds in 2008/09 and annual increases of RPI plus 5.8 per cent thereafter, and maximum Gatwick charges of 5.19 pounds in 2008/09 and then annual increases of RPI plus 1.0 per cent.

The CAA said the main reason for the differences in its and the Commission's proposals were the larger investment programmes in prospect at each airport and the cost of delivering more stringent security processing and improving service quality.

The Commission's advice on price controls is non-binding. The CAA is due to issue its firm proposals on price controls by November 20, and its final decision in February or March.

REUTERS YA SSC1432

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