Airlines must review flight schedules to avoid summer flight chaos, says DfT | aircraft industry

Airlines have been ordered by the government to review their flight schedules to avoid more flight chaos, as airports and unions said the problems behind the recent cancellations would not be resolved by the summer.

The Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said airlines should ensure flights on sale are “deliverable” and cancellations should be made “as soon as possible”.

A joint letter to the aviation sector said airlines should “take all possible steps to prepare and manage for passenger demand” to “avoid the unacceptable scenes that we have witnessed recently.”

It called on airport bosses to set up working groups with airlines and ground handlers and report to a new strategic risk group, which ministers would chair, to consider the plans.

The instructions came as representatives of the airline industry and consumer groups told MPs that the government should share some of the blame for recent disruptions at airports, as a lack of support for the sector has exacerbated staffing problems.

Speaking at a hearing of the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Sue Davies, head of consumer rights at Which?, said many customers were in a “horrific situation” and their rights were “blatantly disregarded” by airlines be.

She said: “Both industry and government must take responsibility for the chaos we have seen. The airlines and the government have encouraged people to travel again and we think they simply underestimated the capacity issues and the bottlenecks.”

Airports, unions and recruiters said the abrupt lifting of Britain’s tough Covid-19 travel restrictions, lack of certainty about jobs and the premature end of the furlough scheme had all contributed to problems with rehiring.

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, told MPs: “The industry has been decimated. We had two years of virtual non-operation.

“We’ve recovered, but we’re a complex industry with many parts… Very, very short-term recruitment is difficult.”

Unione union said airlines that had laid off the most staff, such as British Airways and easyJet, are now facing the most cancellations. National Aviation Officer Oliver Richardson told MPs: “That is almost exactly the same [with] the companies that have made the most layoffs and the most significant changes in terms and conditions, and those that have not.”

He said Ryanair was “in a different position than BA, who… have gotten rid of too many people in some cases”.

“Conditions for those who remain have been relaxed, and when it comes to attracting people to the industry, it just isn’t as attractive as it used to be.”

BA’s director of corporate affairs, Lisa Tremble, refused to comment on the links between layoffs and the current problems when asked three times by committee chair Darren Jones: “There is no link between the layoff of 10,000 employees and that Lack of enough staff to fly your planes?”

Tremble said the airline was “in a very precarious situation” in 2020. “I think the company made a responsible decision,” she said.

Richardson also said uncertainty about the furlough scheme, which was ended by the government before the Omicron wave shut down many travel again, has led to further job losses in the industry.

TUI airline chief executive David Burling said the problems were worse in the UK than the rest of Europe. He said: “Most of Europe has a certainty [staffing] Problem but not the other things, baggage handling… the shutdown was more dramatic here than anywhere else. The holiday here ended in September and in Europe it lasted until March, April… and we obviously had Brexit.”

An estimated 30% of staff working at airports were migrant workers before Britain left the EU, Simon Calder, the journalist and travel expert, told MEPs.

Organizations had to face arduous security checks for new employees that could take up to 14 weeks.

Jude Winstanley, the UK chief executive of Swissport, a major airport ground crew contractor, said he was hiring dozens of staff just to speed up background checks on new recruits.

When asked if the issues would be resolved by the summer, all union and airport company officials said no.

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Later, when airline executives were asked if they were confident customers who had booked for July and August would fly, Burling said: “I am confident that we are making every effort to minimize what we can , but we don’t have every element of the system under control.”

EasyJet’s chief operating officer, Sophie Dekkers, said the airline was “putting in a buffer. If that means taking more people or more flights, we will do what we have to do.”

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