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European airports predict delays as post-Covid demand causes issues

66% of Europe’s airports are expecting flight delays to increase this summer, a new survey shows

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport Pic: Pack-Shot / Shutterstock

Europe’s airports are predicting increased flight delays and cancellations this summer due to a lack of staff and resources following the Covid pandemic. 

Airports Council International, which represents nearly 2,000 airports worldwide, raised the concerns of European airports and ground handlers following a swift uptake in business in the first quarter of 2022. 

“Coping with this sudden increase and concentration of air traffic has been challenging for airports and their operational partners - in particular ground handlers,” Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe wrote in a joint statement with Fabio Gamba, managing director of the Airport Services Association. 

ACI Europe states that Europe’s airports, particularly large hubs, “expect that the quality of the passenger experience will be unavoidably affected” by a staffing shortage this summer. 

It says that there could be longer waiting lines during key processes such as check-in, security screening and baggage delivery. 

The body notes that amongst Europe’s airports:

  • 66% expect flight delays to increase

  • 16% expect flight cancellations to increase

  • 15% expect flight schedules to be adapted

  • 35% expect the airport and ground handling staff shortages to affect their operations beyond the summer period

“In the wake of European states easing travel restrictions in March, the recovery of passenger traffic has accelerated sharply and suddenly,” the joint statement, published Friday (May 6), states. 

“While still remaining below pre-pandemic (2019) levels, passenger traffic has also become much more concentrated over peak periods. In fact, at many airports and in particular larger hubs, traffic peaks are at, or higher than, pre-pandemic levels.”

Groupe ADP, which owns and manages Parisian international airports Charles de Gaulle Airport, Orly Airport and Le Bourget Airport, states that the number of passengers is up in all of its airports, with the numbers “accelerating” in March. 

In the first quarter of 2022, the group reports catering to 14.6 million passengers, up 211.8% on the same period last year, when there were 4.7 million. 

Passenger traffic reached 61.4% of the 2019 levels in the first quarter of this year. 

Airports call for staffing reforms

The joint statement blames depleted resources following the pandemic and poor employment conditions for ground handling staff as the causes for making key airport processes “socially and operationally unsustainable”. 

“The fact that airports and ground handlers received far less financial aid than airlines [during the pandemic] and that such aid came rather late was a significant contributing factor to their weakened operational capabilities,” the statement reads.

It also highlighted lengthy training procedures for ground staff and the low wages and long hours associated with the job.

“Training and security clearance requirements make it impossible to quickly adapt and deploy additional staff – as they result in lead times of up to 16 weeks between staff recruitment and actual deployment.

“The fact that security and ground handling jobs have for many years stood at the lower end of pay scales and also involve working in shifts seven days a week is a clear handicap in attracting people in the current inflationary environment.

“If low wages and compromised service quality were already a concern pre-pandemic, they are now coming to the fore – impacting the aviation system.”

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