Gatwick; Flood Response 'Fell Short.'

Gatwick bosses learnt that a damaging flood would hit the airport only half an hour before it happened on Christmas Eve, the West Sussex airport's chief told MPs.

The flooding was the worst at the airport since 1967, Gatwick chief executive Stewart Wingate told the House of Commons Transport Committee.

He said he was "very sorry'' about what happened on Christmas Eve when many flights had to be cancelled and others were badly delayed.

Mr Wingate went on: "A lot more could and should have been done for passengers. Our actions fell short.''

He was speaking at a special one-off evidence session called following the major flood-related disruption at Gatwick on Christmas Eve which led to flight cancellations and long delays.

Passengers complained about a lack of information, with some waiting many hours for flights before having to go home after learning that their flight had, ultimately, been axed.

Gatwick has invited all those who flights were cancelled on Christmas Eve to apply for £100 shopping vouchers as a gesture of goodwill.

Gatwick has begun its own investigation into the pre-Christmas problems while the Civil Aviation Authority has said it is looking into the matter.

Mr Wingate said that as it was Christmas Eve the decision was taken to try to move passengers from the flood-affected North Terminal to the South Terminal to try to get them away on flights.

He added that if it had been any other day then flights would have been cancelled straight away.

He told the committee that forecasters had advised the airport bosses that high winds were the problem they would face on Christmas Eve.

But at 4.15am on Christmas Eve airport chiefs had been told that the nearby River Mole would flood in 30 minutes. In addition the 68mm of rain that hit the airport was far more than forecast, Mr Wingate said.

Mr Wingate told MPs: "Historically we were told that there was very little risk of flooding to the North Terminal. It was an exceptionally low risk."

He added that it was always anticipated that in the event of bad weather there would be more risk to the South Terminal.

Mr Wingate told the committee that he was on annual leave - in Newcastle upon Tyne - on Christmas Eve. "We were not anticipating this event,'' he said adding that he had remained on conference call all day.

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