Aviation Workforce Shortages On Both Sides Of The Pond

With the end of US and Australian travel bans and the holiday season fast approaching, transatlantic travel is set to see a climatic upturn. However, due to industry labour shortages and employee union disputes, the return of transatlantic travel to pre pandemic levels, may be much slower and more anti-climatic than anticipated.

Since the start of the summer the aviation industry has seen many issues concerning labour shortages, union disagreements, and thousands of cancelled flights on both sides of the Atlantic.

UK Ministers fear a potential shortfall in pilot numbers when full flight schedules resume, after hundreds of airline crew retired or changed career during the pandemic. The acting general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), Martin Chalk, has also confirmed that the aviation industry also feared a shortage of pilots.

Experts have suggested the industry faced a global shortage of 34,000 pilots by 2025

Ground Handling

With staffing shortages preventing airlines from adding additional flights, there is also an increasing number of airlines having to cancel flights. This has resulted in ground handlers such as Menzies, having to make ‘tailored’ approaches to tackling recruitment challenges due to a lack of workforce, says Menzies Aviation Chief Operating Officer, Mervyn Walker.

Alaska Airlines has decided to reduce its everyday service between Wichita, Kansas, and Seattle, Washington in November and December. This is due to “labour shortages”, according to an update posted on the website for the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. However, an Alaska Airlines spokesperson has denied the claim made by the airport. A spokesperson said,

This is part of standard seasonal operation changes and is not a reflection on staffing changes,”

Alaska Airlines landing gear
Alaska Airlines © Andres Porco / Travel Radar

Southwest Airlines suffered a spiral of disruption earlier this month, triggered by bad weather, air traffic control issues and thin staffing resources. This series of unfortunate events resulted in the carrier having to cancel more than 2,000 flights, costing the airline $75million. Southwest said that it would adjust its December schedule to try and get a handle on the issue. The airline also said 2022 schedule would reflect a “more conservative staffing assumptions, as well, all compared to historical norms.”

Pent Up Demand

Due to a surge is travel demand, and the vaccine rates slowly rising, people are becoming more comfortable with traveling on planes. Over the summer season, American Airlines were also forced to cancelled hundreds of flights due to staffing shortages, and maintenance issues. American Airline spokesperson, Sarah Jantz reported,

Labour shortages some of our vendors are contending with and the incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand.

American Airlines Overhead
American Airlines © Andres Porco / Travel Radar

Over the pandemic, most airline’s biggest problems, were a weak demand due to travel restrictions and closed borders. That has changed since the summer, and demand has started to pick up. Virgin Atlantic reported a 600% booking surge overnight, following President Joe Biden’s announcement of the end of the 18-month travel ban.

As transatlantic travel is reading to make a roaring come back, the question on industry enthusiasts’ minds is, is the industry ready? What are your thoughts? Leave us your comments below! 

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Nadeane Smallwood
Nadeane Smallwood
A recent MSc Air Transport graduate, with a passion for aviation, journalism and creative writing. Nadeane is a London based aviation Journalist, with over ten years experience in various roles across the aviation industry and travelled to over 40 countries.


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