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Transport Secretary Is "Very Concerned" About Airport Delays Ahead Of Peak Summer Travel

Thousands of passengers have seen their flights delayed or cancelled in recent weeks

3 min read

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he has already changed some laws to help reduce long delays and cancelled flights ahead of the summer holidays.

Airports have already announced a swathe of cancellations after they struggled to handle passenger numbers as a result of staff shortages, leading to thousands of holidaymakers having their trips cancelled.

There has been travel disruption in recent weeks at a number of UK's main airports, including Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick where staff shortages have had a major impact during the busy travel season.

Speaking to Sky News, Shapps said he had agreed a 22-point plan with the industry to get on top of the chaos, and claimed he had already changed the law to reduce red tape at airports.

"I have been very concerned about the way their bounceback, or over-bounceback in a sense from Covid, has caused all those queues and problems at the airport," he said.

"I've been working with them, we've got a 22-point plan that we have put together with the sector, which has included changing the law to speed up things like the processing of security clearances, using some Brexit freedoms, as it happens, and ask the airports and the airlines to be realistic about the flight programme that they run."

He added: "This is all in order to ensure when schools break up across the whole country, that we see airports run as smoothly as possible but I should point out this is not a UK only problem."

Industry bosses have already blamed inaction from ministers as a contributing factor to the "predictable" and "preventable" problems facing airports as they deal with the surge in demand.

Philipp Joeinig, chief executive of Menzies Aviation, which provides check-in staff to the UK's key transport hubs, said Brexit had had a "big negative impact" on the ability to source staff, adding the pandemic had "compounded" job losses which have not yet recovered.

Writing in The Times, he said: "The aviation sector lobbied the government at the time to provide sector-specific aid to retain its skilled, security-cleared people to avoid staff shortages. This was not forthcoming for aviation services businesses."

He called for further "practical action" from the government, including adding airport staff to the shortage occupation list, allowing airlines and airports to recruit more easily from outside the UK.

"We support the intention of the Government’s 22-point action plan to tackle travel disruption, but we call on it to recognise aviation as a special case," he wrote.

"We also need a reduction in reference checks and a fast-track process introduced without delay, with mutual recognition by authorities of security training and employee background records."

British Airways, alongside other major airlines, have already cancelled thousands of flights in recent weeks as they attempt to tackle the backlog, with a warning that further disruption could be expected if delays continue.

But Sharon Graham, head of the Unite union, criticised the government's approach to airlines during the pandemic, saying ministers provided the firms with cash without receiving assurances that staffing levels could be maintained.

"Our money was handed over to firms without any strings attached," she said.

"They did not protect jobs. Many just used public money to prop up their share price."

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