No quick fix for the ground handling staffing issues says ASA and ACI

posted on 9th May 2022 by Olivia Pilling

The Airports Council International (ACI) and Airport Services Association (ASA) say there is no quick fix for the for airports which are failing to adapt to the increased passenger traffic experienced in the last few months.

The statement, made by Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, and Fabio Gamba, Managing Director of ASA, comments on the recovery of passenger traffic, which has increased suddenly and become more concentrated over peak period compared to pre-pandemic levels. Between February and March, passenger volumes at EU+ airports jumped by +36%, with March volumes being nearly 6 times higher (+485%) compared to the same period last year.

This spike of passenger traffic has created major disruption for airports and passengers, realizing in flight delays, cancellations and a “degraded passenger experience” at check-in security and baggage delivery.

The underlying cause for these disruptions set out was the impossibility of hiring staff at a quick enough rate to accommodate the surge in passenger traffic. The staffing shortage was caused by a range of factors. Mass layoffs due to air traffic suspension during the height of the pandemic left the airports and ground handling companies with severely depleted resources. Airport and particularly ground handling staff were most vulnerable to dismissal at this time due to the financial aid received from government; compared to EU+ airlines receiving €37.5 billion, EU+ airports received €4.9 billion and ground handlers received €650 million.

Hiring ground handling staff is no mean feat either. As security and ground handling jobs are paid poorly, and involve unsociable shift patterns, the positions are not attractive. Once an individual is hired, it can take upwards of 16 weeks for the individual to pass training and security clearance standards. These factors combined create a tough situation for airports which are failing to adapt quickly to the increased passenger traffic.

The statement reports larger airports and hubs will be most affected, where the operations are more complex. The ACI produced results from a recent survey suggest over 2/3 of airports expect flight delays to increase, and over a third of airports expecting the staffing issues to affect operations beyond the summer season.

Some suggestions for short term changes to address the issues, include faster security clearances for new staff members to get people on the ground quicker, and for scheduling adaptions from airlines to decrease traffic at peak times. In the medium term, they advocate for the EU rules on ground handling to be revised so that no further liberalization of ground handling can occur without compliance clauses for minimum quality of service, and the promotion and recognition of skills. Setting of an upper limit of ground handling suppliers based on the size of the airport was mentioned, aiming to address a portion of the social and operational issues as well.

 

Read the statement here.