Airlines bosses have told MPs that delays in security screenings for airline personnel are partly responsible for the volume of flight cancellations.
“It now takes about 14 weeks to get crew ID passes,” said Sophie Dekkers, chief operating officer of easyJet, earlier today. “It was about 10 weeks pre-pandemic.”
The easyJet executive spoke at a special hearing of the cross-party business select committee, which is investigating flight cancellations and airline compensation following the turmoil in recent weeks.
Ms Dekkers indicates that checking references takes longer because many candidates have had multiple jobs during the corona pandemic.
“We are required to get a reference for each of these.”
Ms Dekkers said easyJet currently has 142 fully trained cabin crew members who are unable to work because they have not yet received ID clearance.
“The ID processing surprised us,” she added.
Ms Dekkers said the airline has referred 55 people from different parts of the company to call seeking employment references to speed up the process.
The 142 trained crew members would be enough for between 30 and 40 aircraft.
The chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, Richard Moriarty, said the turnaround time for the government’s share of the security clearance was “as good if not better than before the pandemic”.
He said, “Where the blocks usually are is the employer background checks.”
the independent calculates that easyJet cancels about 60 flights a day, mainly to and from its largest base, Gatwick.
Ms Dekkers: “Yesterday we performed 1,678 flights. Ten were canceled that day. Two of these were due to the crew. Two were due to air traffic control and six were due to tech.”
Responding to claims that easyJet is making it difficult for people to claim compensation under European passenger rights rules, Ms Dekkers said: “We are very clear.”
Similarly, Lisa Tremble, British Airways’ Chief Corporate Affairs Director, rejected the claim that BA was opaque about passengers’ right to compensation.
“The customer comms make it clear that people [whose flights are cancelled by the airline] are entitled to EU261 compensation.”
David Burling, chief executive markets and airlines for Tui – Britain’s largest holiday company – said the company had invested in extra resilience: “In a normal year we would have two spare planes. We now have five, so we can absorb more bumps in the system.”
He said: “The shutdown in the airline industry has been more dramatic than in other countries in Europe, which was surprising to some extent given that we were the first with the vaccine.
“We clearly had Brexit,” he added.
Aviation minister Robert Courts said it was “unlikely” that Brexit was partly responsible for the labor shortage that led to the disruption.
“Based on the evidence we have, it appears that Brexit has not been a major factor.
“I don’t think that talent pool is there.”
Mr Courts said the government had provided £8bn in aid during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He also warned airlines that he would be looking at the amount of canceled flights over the summer, saying: “I will look into those in the future. [airlines’] schedule each week.”
The committee met as Heathrow Airport reopened Terminal 4, which had been shut down for the past two years due to the pandemic.