Air transport demand in Europe is at 75% of 2019 levels yet delays and cancellations continue to affect the European commercial air travel system due to the difficulties in hiring after the pandemic, announced the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Given the contracting challenges faced by the industry, “further disruption is inevitable as demand continues to increase,” Rafael Schvartzman, regional vice president for Europe of IATA. The official, who was speaking at IATA’s 78th Annual General Meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, noted that so far this year, on average, about 69% of flights in Europe are delayed.
The total delay is 5.2 million minutes, which is comparable to 2019 data, “but the main difference is that we are still below pre-pandemic demand”. The figures from three years ago were heavily affected by weather and other events, he said.
During the pandemic, actual cancellations were considerably higher than the expected average, but as restrictions against the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus were lifted, the numbers began to decline until about mid-May. Then they went up again as demand increased.
Aviation is a complex system, and airlines are at the mercy of other players, particularly airports and air traffic control, said Schvartzman. Air traffic management delays are also increasing, but as worryingly so as the delays linked to ground and operational staff, which have now become the main problem. During the pandemic, many workers decided to leave the industry or were laid off, and although recruitment is now taking place as quickly as possible, security clearance is a key difficulty.
The current process takes between two and six weeks. Increased recruitment for the summer is a major challenge, Schvartzman added. He believes that governments could help through mutual recognition of security clearance, so that an employee from one European country can move to do the same job in another EU country without delay.
“One-day” credentials should also be made available, to allow personnel without full security clearance to work in restricted areas under the supervision of a fully cleared employee, among other measures. Airports should monitor their bottlenecks and make new capacity declarations well in advance so that airlines can inform customers of changes to their flights, giving them time to reschedule trips or have alternative solutions.
Many delays are beyond the airlines’ control. If airports force cancellations at short notice, the classification of these cases as extraordinary circumstances is unclear. There has been a lack of guidance from both the European Commission and national bodies, Schvartzman said. What is needed is cooperation across the system, including governments and regulators to help the industry meet the challenges of the industry’s restart after the pandemic.
If compensation is due, but the airline is not at fault, “then there should be some kind of mechanism for airlines and airports to reach a fair resolution,” he concluded.