Airlines have been urged to review “afresh” their summer schedules to ensure they are “deliverable” by the UK government and Civil Aviation Authority after the sector was hit by major disruption in recent weeks.
The Department for Transport (DfT) and aviation regulator CAA have written a joint letter to the industry calling for carriers to reassess their plans for the rest of the summer season up to the end of September.
The letter was released as aviation figures warned UK politicians that the current problems for the sector would not be fixed before the peak summer period. Although the situation was “getting better” as more staff are being recruited to cope with the rebound in travel.
“Your schedules must be based on the resources you and your contractors expect to have available and should be resilient for the unplanned and inevitable operational challenges that you will face,” said the DfT and CAA in its letter.
“While cancellations at any time are a regrettable inconvenience to passengers, it is our view that cancellations at the earliest possibility to deliver a more robust schedule are better for consumers than late notice on-the-day cancellations.”
The recent disruption has caused TMC members of the Business Travel Association to spend the equivalent of 223 days in the past month dealing with the impact of flight cancellations.
A session held by the House of Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee on Tuesday (14 June) heard that the industry had been left unprepared for a post-pandemic surge in demand after losing seven per cent of its workforce during the past two years.
Airport Operators Association’s CEO Karen Dee told MPs that there were “barriers to recruitment” including the uncertainty of when the sector would reopen.
“We were recruiting in November but then Omicron came along and we were shut down again,” said Dee. “It’s improved a lot since February and March when restrictions were lifted.
“Although we have removed all of the restrictions here [in the UK], there are still destination countries that require checks. Airlines are having to do these checks and passengers are having to show additional documents.”
Oliver Richardson, national officer for civil air transport at the union Unite, added that the “economics of the industry” did not allow it to scale up quickly and added that its members had suffered abuse from passengers frustrated by delays and cancellations.
“There’s a lot of frustration in the system,” he said. “People are thinking: I can go somewhere else where we don’t face that sort of abuse.”
The industry also called for the government to “streamline” the vetting and security processes for new employees to help alleviate the staffing problems this summer.
Sophie Dekkers, chief commercial officer at easyJet, said: “The key challenge is around recruitment processes and ID checking. It’s taking longer for ID processing – it’s taking 14 weeks to get crew passes. It took 10 weeks before the pandemic. We have 142 crew who are now trained but don’t have their ID passes.”
Lisa Tremble, chief corporate affairs and sustainability director at British Airways, added: “We want to be better. Nobody wants to let customers down. We want to provide the best possible service. We want to make sure our schedule is as resilient as possible.”
CAA chief executive Richard Moriarty stressed that disruption to flights was not “solely a UK-specific issue”.
He added that there had been a cancellation rate of 2 to 4 per cent of all flights in the UK during the Jubilee half-term week, which compared with a cancellation rate of 3 per cent in France and 11 per cent in the Netherlands for the same period.
“Clearly it’s distressing and clearly unacceptable but if we look at comparable other countries, their cancellation rates over the same period are equally as high,” said Moriarty.