Flood row lands BIA in hot water

THE Managing Director of Belfast International has mounted a robust defence of the airport’s handling of the unprecedented cloudburst over the Borough on July 28.

Over 88mm of rain fell in just a couple of hours - more than the average for a month - and there was widespread flooding.

Homes and businesses across the Antrim area were invaded by the deluge - and BIA was not immune from the encroaching waters.

Areas of its car parks soon began to flood, particularly a field that was being used as ‘overflow’ for the packed Park and Fly area.

It soon became clear that the natural drainage was not up to the job and soon numerous vehicles were taking on water causing untold damage to brakes, air bags and on-board electronics.

Though many had booked online, motorists were not warned about the torrential rains that day - or advised to check if the safety of their car had been compromised.

And that has proved to be a massive bone of contention this week.

Yes, many holiday-makers were alerted to the problem when their car simply failed to start - but others were miles from Aldergrove before it dawned on them that something had gone seriously wrong.

Callers to the Nolan Show this week reported dashboards ‘lighting up like a Christmas tree’ when electronics crashed. Others revealed that their cars simply seized up on the journey home.

The burning question, of course, was how many had driven home unaware that they could potentially be ferrying their families in a ticking timebomb.

“You could be driving what could amount to a death trap,” said Ian Crowder of the AA.

But with pressure mounting on the top man at Belfast International, the man caught in the eye of the storm was nowhere to be seen or heard.

Despite the mounting backlash, Graham Keddie remained conspicuously silent - even when it became clear that this was rapidly developing into the worst PR disaster during his tenure.

Just months after BIA unveiled its most impressive figures ever, potential customers were threatening to take their business elsewhere.

Mr Keddie eventually relented and released a statement confirming that no-one would be left out of pocket.

It was undoubtedly welcome news for the car owners already in talks with the airport’s lawyers, but it does not address the elephant in the room - just how many were actually affected?

Mr Keddie puts the figure at 35 - ‘not 100 or 1,000 as has been speculated’ - but some people have challenged that.

Like the man from the AA, they fear that other cars showing no worrying symptoms at present remain undiagnosed. Until, of course, something goes wrong.

Responding to the ‘frenzied onslaught’ by sections of the media, the airport chief insisted that they were indeed going the extra mile to compensate those left out of pocket by their stay.

“We are settling all costs, including the cost of vehicles that have been written off, and associated costs such as car hire and insurance excess,” he said.

“All outstanding claims will be dealt with as quickly as possible.

“We will look after our customers even though extreme weather is outside our control. We could have avoided liability under Act of God clauses, but we didn’t.

“Instead we acknowledged the extent of the damage that was done and moved to deliver redress to our customers. On July 28, 2,800 cars were in our Park and Fly car park and three cars were damaged.

“In our long stay car park there were 3,754 and 32 of those were damaged due to the unprecedented rain.

“Clearly what occurred on July 28 was beyond our control, but what we do control is the prompt and respectful way we deal with our customers who were so badly affected.

“Our commitment is undiminished. We are sorry for what happened and are working hard to deliver outcomes that will go towards alleviating distress and disruption.

“No-one will be out one penny because of what took place on July 28.”

Some, including Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Montgomery, have welcomed that assurance - but he believes that nagging concerns remain.

“Considering all the events that took place with the flooding of cars at the airport there are clear lessons which must be learned from the reaction, or rather lack of reaction, by the airport,” he said.

“There is no doubt the flooding was an ‘act of God’ in liability terms and it is commendable that the airport are dealing with compensation issues rather than just passing the buck.

“However, the fact remains that people were allowed to drive away from the airport in potentially dangerous cars without being told by the airport that their car had been flooded.

“Even something as simple as a note on the windscreen would have been sufficient to warn drivers and advise them to contact the airport.

“Where the property of people is left supposedly safely with the airport and damage is done, the airport must ensure that in future the affected people are made aware of the fact as quickly as possible and also that there is no risk to people as there clearly was in this case.”

Another caller to the Antrim Guardian this week said the incident posed ‘serious questions’ about the airport’s ‘crusade’ to close down rival car parking operations on the fringes of BIA.

“Surely it would have been better to leave your car in a properly drained car park rather than a muddy field?” he asked.

“Unfortunately for an untold number of motorists, Belfast International’s overflow car park became just that - and I’m sure this has been a very worrying time for the people who have seen their cars written off.

“But it is also a worrying time for the 6,500 people who also entrusted the airport with their cars that weekend. Many of them will now be left wondering if their vehicle is safe.

“Will BIA pay for them to get a mechanic to examine their cars too. What price does Mr Keddie put on peace of mind?”

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