Britain became the late man of European aviation

delayed flights - Getty

delayed flights – Getty

It’s official: German low-cost carrier Eurowings is Europe’s most punctual airline. That’s according to aviation analytics firm OAG’s latest Punctuality League, which compiled data from the world’s 250 largest airlines and found that 95.26 percent of the company’s flights arrived on time in 2022.

Other notable punctual performers were Spanish airlines Iberia and Air Europa, which placed second and third respectively. Austrian, Italian, Dutch, Turkish and Polish airlines all got on the business side of the table, while Scandinavian airlines also performed well. However, take a quick look at the top ten and you’ll notice something is missing: UK-based airlines.

As a country, we are pretty bad at flying on time. EasyJet avoided delays on only 66.2 percent of its flights in 2022, with Virgin Atlantic and BA even worse, according to further analysis of OAG data on timely arrivals by UK based airlines. And for some of the UK’s latest airlines, there were later flights than punctual ones.

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Literally why do we lag behind? In 2022, post-pandemic pent-up demand meant UK holidaymakers returned to the airport faster than many staff could, resulting in one summer of delays and cancellations.

“England has had an incredibly devastating summer. And when I say summer, I actually mean heavy disruptions starting late March and lasting until October,” says the airline analyst. Alex Macheras. “As in other parts of the world, it was the most important resumption of air travel following the end of pandemic restrictions and lockdown. But the disruption in the UK was, overall, slightly worse than anywhere else.

The problems have been exacerbated by layoffs by airlines and transport companies during the lockdown, and post-Brexit hiring issues. “The cut is directly related to the lack of staff and the fact that we have more layoffs in the UK,” says Macheras. “It came together with this ambitious program to fly normally. In places like Spain, the aviation industry has not only been managed more consistently, but has not followed the same level of layoffs across the industry.”

Among the UK airlines cut during the pandemic, British Airways was responsible for 10,000 layoffs in 2020, while EasyJet gave voluntary layoffs to 2,000 staff and asked its pilots to go part time. Layoffs weren’t just the UK’s problem: in 2020 Air France committed to laying off 7,500 staff over a two-year period – but then also lost punctuality risks with a significantly worse timely performance than in 2019. to analytics firm Cirium.

But research by showed that the UK led the continent in pilot layoffs related to the outbreak by January 2021. Oliver Richardson of Unite pointed to a direct correlation at the Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee meeting last spring. It is among the airlines with the most layoffs and the airlines with the most cancellations.

Airlines weren’t the only ones experiencing staff shortages after the pandemic. Ground handling companies have experienced similar issues causing problems at UK airports. “We can only compare airline by industry, not airline by industry,” Macheras says. “In many of these scenarios where airlines don’t have a lot of layoffs, what matters is who takes care of the baggage, who is the operator responsible for handling and checking the passengers on the ground and the baggage.

“Large companies like Swissport and Menzies have experienced massive layoffs following staff shortages. This meant that even if an airline was in a position to deliver an ambitious 2022 program, the ground handling agent could by no means be next page with them. Some airlines went bankrupt because of the failures of ground handling agency companies.”

A lack of on-site staff contributed to poor punctuality at UK airports, particularly at Heathrow. At Europe’s busiest airport, 14 percent fewer flights were on time in 2022 than in 2019, while no airport in the UK made it to the list of Europe’s top performers.

The government’s ambivalent handling of the travel industry during the pandemic may be partially responsible. In 2021, frustration among industry workers was high, with nearly 60 percent of respondents in an HR News survey saying they would not return to travel and tourism, and one-third believed the industry was too unpredictable to build a career. inside.

“Countries like Spain didn’t have what we had for most of 2021, namely Grant Schapps playing travel roulette every Thursday,” Macheras says. “The UK was unique in having perhaps the most mismanaged aviation sector in terms of government response. The UK government’s handling of aviation in the pandemic was erratic, consisting of endless U-turns and providing certainty to neither passengers nor airlines and operators.”

Just as things were starting to settle in, a bad weather wave in December caused a reduction in flights from Manchester, Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick, and Border Force strikes threatened to cause delays (although anecdotal evidence suggests they had little effect on travellers). Meanwhile, that same month, disgruntled British Airways passengers, including actress Liz Hurley, took to Twitter after a technical problem caused the airline’s flights from the US and Caribbean to be delayed by several hours in a flurry of hours.

As a Cirium spokesperson explained: “Many things can go wrong beyond the airlines’ or airports’ control: air congestion, taxi times from runways, and gate availability. Indeed, extreme weather conditions, technical issues and other external events can increase the unexpected turmoil that can be too much for airlines and airports to navigate in real time.”

airport problems

Another factor that may have affected the UK’s performance is actually a plus point for the country: the UK’s impressive air connectivity to other parts of Europe, in particular.

Some UK based airlines, including British Airways and EasyJet, have very broad schedules compared to some of the most punctual performers, but the busy schedules can lead to delays, in part because European airports have longstanding problems with on-time arrivals and departures. As early as 2005, the Eurocontrol Performance Review Commission was asked to produce a report on why this might be, and cited an isolated approach from different segments of the airport community as a key factor.

EasyJet, with many flights that never landed on UK soil, has been affected by issues across the continent, including passenger limitations and operational difficulties. Announcing a worse-than-ever record, a spokesperson said, “In 2022, the entire aviation industry, from airlines to airports and air traffic control, has experienced operational problems as the industry accelerates again in the wake of the pandemic.”

Despite this, several European airports, including those in the UK, are back on track by the end of 2022. According to OAG, Heathrow was able to achieve on-time departures only 61.2 percent in November, while Gatwick fared better with 80 percent (Barcelona and Amsterdam achieved 74.5 and 77.9 percent, respectively).

It was also good news for some of the UK’s airlines. EasyJet was performing better until November, with 83.6 percent of its flights arriving on time.

“We know that punctuality is important to our customers, and that’s why our teams work extremely hard to promptly execute each flight,” said an EasyJet spokesperson. “Delays can be caused by a number of factors, many of which are often beyond an airline’s control, including airspace at the primary airports where we operate and airspace congestion or weather, while approximately three-quarters of EasyJet’s flights are on time. The last three months of 2022.”

Is it faster in the future?

Will this (mostly) positive trend continue in the UK as demand begins to rise in the spring and summer of 2023? Although many flight routes have now resumed, staff numbers remain low compared to pre-pandemic.

Ongoing recruitment issues persist. “Brexit has made it much more difficult for airlines to recruit nationals from overseas so they can work in the UK,” Macheras says. “In terms of hiring, the airline industry as a whole still hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels. At the beginning of last year, even if not as much as nine months ago, there is still a shortage. However, if we need to keep politics out of this, it is a fact that hiring foreign personnel for the aviation industry is more complex, more difficult and more restrictive than it used to be.”

Despite this, OAG’s Principal Analyst John Grant remains positive about the outlook. “The UK hasn’t had a good year, but things have improved over the past few months as peak summer pressure on resources eased and we got through the Christmas and New Year period relatively unscathed,” he says. “The key question everyone is planning is Summer 2023; With about 10-12 percent less capacity currently planned than pre-Covid, I think there should be enough capacity to cope, and many airports are currently holding job fairs to fill these vital operational roles.

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