Airline bosses have told MPs that security vetting delays for aviation staff are partly to blame for the scale of flight cancellations.
“It’s taking about 14 weeks now to get crew ID passes,” said Sophie Dekkers, chief operating officer for easyJet, earlier today. “It was around 10 weeks pre-pandemic.”
The easyJet executive was speaking at a special hearing of the cross-party business select committee, which is investigating flight cancellations and airline compensation after the turmoil of recent weeks.
Ms Dekkers said that checking references was taking longer because many candidates had had multiple jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re required to get a reference for each of those.”
Ms Dekkers said that easyJet at present had 142 fully trained cabin crew who were unable to work because they have not yet received ID clearance.
“The ID processing has caught us by surprise,” she added.
Ms Dekkers said the airline has redirected 55 people from various parts of the business to make calls chasing employment references, to help speed up the process.
The 142 trained crew would be sufficient for between 30 and 40 aircraft.
The chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, Richard Moriarty, said the turnaround time for the government’s part in the security clearance operation was “as good as, if not better, than they were pre-pandemic”.
He said: “Where the blockages tend to be is in the employer background checks.”
The Independent calculates that easyJet is cancelling around 60 flights a day, mainly to and from its biggest base, Gatwick.
Ms Dekkers said:“Yesterday we operated 1,678 flights. Ten were cancelled on the day. Two of those were due to crew. Two were due to air-traffic control and six were due to tech.”
In response to assertions that easyJet makes it difficult for people to claim compensation under European air passengers’ rights rules, Ms Dekkers said: “We’re very explicit.”
Similarly, Lisa Tremble, chief corporate affairs director for British Airways, rejected the assertion that BA was opaque about passengers’ entitlement 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 biggest holiday company – said the company had invested for extra resilience: “In a normal year we’d have two spare aircraft. We’ve now got five, so that we can cope with more bumps in the system.”
He said: “The shutdown in the aviation industry was more dramatic than in other countries in Europe, which to some extent was surprising given that we were first with the vaccine.
“We obviously had Brexit,” he added.
The aviation minister, Robert Courts, said it was “unlikely” that Brexit was partly responsible for the labour shortage which has led to disruption.
“On the evidence that we have it looks as though Brexit has not been a significant factor.
“I don’t think that talent pool is there.”
Mr Courts said that the government had given £8bn in support during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He also warned airlines that he would be looking at the quantity of flight cancellations over the summer, saying: “Going forward I will be scrutinising those [airlines’] plans on a weekly basis.”
The committee was meeting as Heathrow Airport reopened Terminal 4, which has been mothballed for the past two years as a result of the pandemic.