Demand for air transport in Europe is still at 75% of 2019 levels and the main challenge today is delays and cancellations affecting parts of the European system, according to the international industry association (IATA).
Given the hiring challenges facing the industry, “greater disruption is inevitable as demand continues to rise,” said Rafael Schvartzman, Regional Vice President for Europe at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) today.
The official, who was speaking at the 78th Annual General Assembly of IATA, in the capital of Qatar, Doha, said 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 the 2019 data, “but the main difference is that we are still below pre-pandemic demand” and, on top of that, the numbers from three years ago were strongly affected by weather and other events, he said.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, actual cancellations were considerably higher than the expected average, but as restrictions against the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, responsible for Covid-19, were lifted, the numbers began to decline. until about mid-May, when they increased again as demand increased and punctuality decreased.
Aviation is “a complex interconnected chain” and airlines are at the mercy of other actors, in particular airports and air traffic control, he said.
Delays in air traffic management are also on the rise, but they are not “as worrisome” as the staff delays that have now become the main problem, after many workers decided to leave the industry during the pandemic 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 to six weeks, which means increasing recruitment for the summer is a big challenge, Schvartzman added, although he believes governments can help, for example, through mutual recognition of security clearance, to that an employee from one European country can move to do the same job in another European Union country without delay.
“One-day” credentials must also be made available to allow personnel without full security clearance to work in restricted areas under the supervision of a fully security cleared employee, among other measures.
In addition, 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 rebook trips or have workarounds.
Given that many delays are beyond the control of airlines and if, in addition, airports force short-term cancellations, the classification of these cases as extraordinary circumstances is “unclear” and there has been a lack of guidance both on the part of the Commission European Union and national bodies, he said.
If compensation is due but the airline is not at fault, “then there should be some sort of mechanism for airlines and airports to reach a fair resolution,” he suggested.
What is needed is cooperation across the system, including governments and regulators, to help the industry meet the challenges of a near-total shutdown restart, he concluded.