Expectations, delays… European airports overwhelmed as summer approaches

Already under pressure due to the lack of staff at airports, air traffic could be disrupted this summer with record attendance in two years.

In March, air traffic experienced an unprecedented rebound in Europe since the start of the pandemic, with activity returning to two-thirds of its pre-Covid level. Good news in theory for airports… Provided they are able to cope with the influx of passengers.

Several major airports are indeed on the verge of congestion. At Amsterdam-Schiphol, the weekend of May 1 was marked by endless queues, the cancellation of nearly 70 flights by the national airline KLM and the postponement of other connections to the neighboring airport of rotterdam. The same queues were observed at several British airports at Easter, and even at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle at the start of the week. On the Orly side, the airport’s capacities are not “not overwhelmed” but already “under pressure”. “Even if the recovery had been anticipated, it is very strong”admits the director of Orly International, Sandra Lignais who says “vigilant” on the situation.

The current difficulties of European airports are due to the lack of personnel, crying out in reception, security or even baggage handlers. “The pandemic has had the effect of greatly reducing airport and ground handling resources”recalls in a press release the director of the European airports council (ACI Europe) Olivier Jankovec.

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Chaotic situation this summer?

Emptied by the cessation of commercial flights during the long months of health restrictions, airports and their subcontractors have reduced their staff. At ADP (Aéroports de Paris), more than 1,200 departures took place in 2020 and 2021. “Layoffs were even more numerous in countries like the Netherlands and the United Kingdom where partial unemployment did not exist or was less protective. They are now the most affected by the lack of staff at airports. Some of their employees have definitely left the airline sector.observes Xavier Titelman, aeronautical consultant.

Urgently launched into vast recruitment campaigns, European airports continue to communicate on their labor needs. The CEO of ADP Augustin de Romanet speaks of 4,000 positions offered by his group and the service providers on its Parisian sites. Among the jobs most in demand at Paris airports are security guards and receptionists. In London, Heathrow also plans to recruit 12,000 people for the summer, which promises to be very lively. For the time being, many positions remain vacant in a context of an overheated job market.

“This summer, air traffic will peak and return to 80-90% of what it was before the Covid”predicts Xavier Titelman who doubts that the airports will manage to find enough workers to manage the summer attendance and avoid the chaotic scenes already seen in the spring. “Most jobs require training for at least a month, even the least qualified. There is still a little time left at the airports to recruit between now and this summer. Everything will be decided now to recruit. Otherwise, it is feared that passengers will have complicated travel experiences with accumulations of waits, delays and even flight cancellations in an extreme scenario”.

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