Airport delays will hit aviation recovery, UK regulator warns

British Airways logos are seen on tail fins at Heathrow Airport in west London February 23, 2018. — Reuters pic
British Airways logos are seen on tail fins at Heathrow Airport in west London February 23, 2018. — Reuters pic

LONDON, April 8 — Cancelled flights and long queues at British airports caused by a lack of staff due to the coronavirus pandemic will hit confidence and hold back recovery unless the problems are resolved quickly, the aviation regulator said today.

British Airways and easyJet have cancelled dozens of flights in recent days and airports have been overwhelmed as a shortage of staff and high Covid-19 sickness levels have coincided with a surge in demand for travel in the run-up to Easter holidays.

The head of the Civil Aviation Authority told airlines and airports he expected the two sides to work together on staffing to fill the gaps, saying airlines should only advertise schedules they could deliver with current staffing levels. Cancellations should be announced well ahead of time.

“Instances of late notice cancellations and excessive delays at airports are not just distressing for affected consumers but have the potential to impact confidence levels across the industry,” Richard Moriarty said in a letter.

Airports across Europe have warned of a struggle to recruit and train staff but the problem is particularly acute in Britain where soaring cases of Covid have kept staff at home and many workers deserted the industry for more reliable jobs.

One of the worst affected airports is Manchester, serving customers in northern England, where queues have extended out of the terminal.

It said today that with little notice that travel restrictions would lift earlier this year, it was now struggling to recruit staff to meet the “stunning” recovery. It warned it would take months to fix the problem.

“We are doing this in one of the most challenging employment markets we have seen, with competition from many other businesses that find themselves in the same position,” said Charlie Cornish, head of Manchester Airport Holdings.

British travellers and truckers have also faced huge delays at the port of Dover in southern England, after ferry operator P&O fired hundreds of staff in favour of cheaper agency staff and then cancelled its sailings. — Reuters