London's Heathrow airport, stung into action by last December's unusual freeze that disrupted flights for five days, is looking into geothermal heating as a way of keeping its runways free of ice.
In what has been dubbed the 'nightmare before Christmas', Europe's busiest airport was crippled during the peak holiday season, when 4,000 flights were cancelled and around a million passengers were stranded, their vacation plans in tatters.
Now, British Airports Authority (BAA), which runs Heathrow, is looking into geothermal technology which stores the heat gathered from the ground during the summer months.
The idea is to capture the heat of the sun as it beats down on the airport's asphalt and store it until winter to keep the temperature on the runways and in parking areas or 'stands' just above zero, so that planes don't get stuck. It combines the principles of Roman central heating with 21st-century renewable energy technology.
As Steven Morgan, BAA's capital projects director, said, ''It's not the snow that caused problems last year, it was the ice.'' Many planes were stuck in ice on their stands, which was the main cause of the problems.
''We are working on a concept to capture geothermal energy from the surface of the tarmac ... during the summer, to then provide a heating capability so the stands don't freeze in the winter.