Stored waste energy could stop airports coming to a halt after snowfall, after December’s problems

BAA is floating plans to use geothermal energy to “de-ice” the ground under aeroplanes during the winter months at Heathrow, to avoid a repeat of the long delays suffered by thousands of passengers last December.

In a twist on the underfloor heating concept, the airport operator is considering harvesting waste energy in the summer months, storing it underground and then using it to warm the ground directly below aircraft in icy conditions.

Steven Morgan, BAA’s capital projects director, said: “It’s not the snow that caused problems last year, it was the ice. We are working on a concept to capture geothermal energy from the surface of the tarmac, so energy without using the grid, during the summer, to then provide a heating capability so the stands don’t freeze in the winter.

“We would store the energy underground and use it to gently heat water that would then be run through pipes in freezing conditions to warm the stands, which are the slabs of concrete directly beneath the planes, to just above zero.”

Last year scores of flights were cancelled and passengers left stranded after unusually heavy snowfall and ice meant planes were unable to use the runways.

At this stage there is no indication of how much this concept, which is currently at the research stage, might cost to implement.

BAA is also due next month to launch a system of robotic cars, or a Personal Rapid Transit system, to ferry passengers between the T5 Business passengers’ car park and the terminal without having to wait for a shuttle bus.

Morgan’s big ideas

Steven Morgan, who joined BAA as capital projects director in 2008, is well known for his forward thinking. The first thing he did was reorganise BAA’s multi-billion pound framework for major projects to promote competition and open up work to new firms. Now all projects over £25m are competitively tendered.
Last year he announced a financial incentive plan that could boost contractors’ margins from 2% to up to 6% and see contractors share in the clients’ savings if a project comes in under budget.