HVS Monday Musings: Staff shortages hamper aviation industry recovery

The global aviation sector has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks, with images of widespread chaos at airports around the world, showing stranded passengers, lost luggage and long security lines, making headlines. More than 2,000 domestic flights were canceled in the United States over the July 4 weekend, according to reports. Meanwhile, Germany and the UK have canceled more than 1,400 and 1,000 flights respectively, which were due to fly between July 1 and July 15.

Several factors contribute to the disruption, including bad weather and the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war, but severe manpower shortages at all levels – pilots, crew, ground staff and baggage handlers – have been the cause. primary cause. Air travel demand has recovered faster than expected, approaching pre-pandemic levels. For example, air travel in Europe returned to 87% of 2019 levels in the first week of July, while air passenger traffic in India for January-May 2022 was 76% of traffic in the same week. period in 2019. However, hiring in the aviation industry has not been able to keep pace with the growth in demand.

To survive the pandemic, airports and airlines have made major staff reductions. According to Oxford Economics, 2.3 million jobs have been lost in the aviation industry since the start of the pandemic, down 21% from pre-pandemic levels. Today, the industry is facing a recruitment and retention crisis due to these staff cuts. While several employees in the aviation industry who were laid off during the pandemic have found new jobs, many others who are still employed in the industry are on strike or plan to strike for better wages and working conditions. . It is also difficult to attract new employees in an industry known for its long hours and physically demanding work.

The labor shortage has reached the point that one of the world’s busiest airports, London Heathrow, has capped daily passenger limits at 100,000 until October 2022 because it is unable to handle the request. In addition to cancellations, long layovers and multiple instances of lost baggage are detrimental to the traveler experience. Delta Air Lines, for example, flew a plane from Heathrow Airport to Detroit last week with 1,000 stuck bags and no passengers to speed up the movement of delayed baggage.

India’s aviation industry is also facing similar staffing issues, which have hampered operations in recent weeks. Employees at several airlines have taken mass furloughs or failed to show up for work to attend hiring events at rival airlines and are protesting that their salaries, which have been cut during the pandemic, have have not yet been reinstated. Even the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) cited the lack of trained personnel to certify airworthy aircraft as one of the main causes for the recent increase in glitches reported by Indian carriers in a recent report. With Jet Airways and Akasa Air entering the market this year, the situation will only get worse. Skills shortages are not new, but the pandemic has made them worse. It is high time for the industry to make structural changes to address these issues, otherwise the recovery in all segments of the travel industry, including hospitality, which is already facing staffing issues, will be slowed. . Instead of blaming each other for the current crisis, airports, airlines and other service providers should work together to overcome obstacles and attract employees.

Airports, airlines and ground handling companies around the world are currently in firefighting mode, trying to cope with the situation by reducing flights and increasing hiring. However, hiring and training new employees takes time, so the situation won’t be resolved any time soon unless airports and governments speed up security clearances. The UK, for example, recently announced that new employees in the aviation industry would be allowed to start training before going through security checks. Meanwhile, Germany has announced that it will allow the entry of immigrant workers to make up for the lack of staff at its airports. Airlines in India, such as IndiGo and Go First, have started discussions with employees on compensation issues, while Air India plans to rehire retired pilots for a period of five years as it expands his fleet.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the strong rebound in air travel is expected to help global airlines, which suffered cumulative losses of nearly US$180 billion between 2020 and 2021, return to profitability. by 2023. and reach greater heights, the industry must think beyond simply filling vacancies at the moment and focus on developing the talent base. Providing a variety of career opportunities and improving pay standards, while prioritizing lifelong learning and employee reskilling and development through specialized training programs, can help attract and retain long-term key talents.