We already know how difficult it is for the aviation industry this summer as it struggles to recruit staff to meet the surge in demand. Many airlines, such as British Airways and easyJet, have themselves have also reduced numbers. However, the government with the support of the aviation regulator is now openly encouraging airlines to reduce their flights so that the aviation industry will be able to manage the passenger numbers.
According to the BBC, in a letter written to airlines on Tuesday, the government and the aviation regulator said that airlines have to ensure that their summer timetables are deliverable. They have also advised that earlier cancelations of flights were better rather than leaving it to the last minute. This letter comes in response to the travel chaos during the Easter weekend as well as the summer half-term holiday. British Airways, Tui and easyJet have apologised for any disruption relating to them.
In the letter, the Department of Transport and the UK Civil Aviation Authority set out their expectations for airlines. It stated that it wanted airlines to review afresh (from the beginning) its plans for the remainder of the summer season until the end of September to develop a schedule that is deliverable. It said to the airlines that their schedules should be based on the resources they have available and should be prepared for the unplanned and inevitable operational challenges that they may face. It also suggested that cancelations at the earliest opportunity to deliver a more robust schedule would be better for customers than late notice on the day.
The letter stated that airlines should keep customers informed about their rights during the disruption such as having sufficiently staffed call centres and user-friendly digital channels. It also emphasised that airlines, ground handlers, air traffic control, and the Border Force should work more closely to try to prevent problems.
Airlines and unions told MPs on the business committee that the problem of staff shortages is likely to be persistent this summer. Oliver Richardson, national officer for the civil air transport at the Unite union, has added that the situation is unlikely to be fixed unless everyone works together.
Problems that could be dealt with in this way are already apparent. Representatives from British Airways, easyJet, and ground handling firm Swissport said that they faced long delays in getting security clearance for new staff. Swissport’s UK boss Jude Winstanley has said that it had hired 3000 people since the start of the year but it was taking up to 90 days to get them a full airside pass (needed for security clearance) due to the referencing process.
There have also been calls for EU aviation workers to be added to the government’s shortage occupation list. However, aviation minister Robert Courts has denied that this would help. He commented that there is a shortage of HGV drivers in the UK and yet when over 5000 visas were offered to help fill gaps only 27 drivers came forward to take them up.
As one can see there does still appear to be a disconnect between the government and regulators on one side, and the airlines and unions on the other. However, the fact that this is being discussed more openly will help to bring about discussion to form an amicable and workable solution to this problem. We have to wait and see how this progresses.