Heathrow airport warns it could extend cap on flights

London’s Heathrow airport has warned that a limit on the number of daily flights may stay in place longer than expected as the aviation industry struggles to overcome unprecedented levels of travel disruption.

John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, said a shortage of ground handling staff was the biggest issue affecting capacity at the UK’s busiest airport.

He blamed airlines for not being quick enough to hire despite Heathrow raising the issue as a concern for the past nine months, and noted that the airport’s own resources were back on track.

Heathrow earlier this month introduced a cap of 100,000 passengers a day until September 11, while airlines were told to stop selling tickets for summer getaways. The cap, which prompted a backlash from some carriers including Emirates, will remain in place until airlines bolster their ground handling staff.

“It won’t be a quick fix. It will need some real focus and effort by everyone to replace the ground handling resource that has been lost,” Holland-Kaye told the Financial Times.

He warned that if airlines do not start to recruit then “we might find ourselves in the same position next summer.”

Heathrow started bulking up its own operations in November last year, which included hiring 1,300 people in the past six months. The airport said its own resources were sufficient to cope with about 85 percent of the traffic seen before the pandemic in 2019 and that this was broadly in line with current demand.

The airport’s profits for the six months to the end of June had recovered from a pandemic-hit performance last year. Adjusted earnings rose to £744mn, reversing a loss a year earlier of £33mn. Revenue rose to £1.3bn from £348mn.

The travel chaos has triggered a blame game within the wider industry as executives have tried to cope with the post-lockdown boom in demand for travel and staffing shortages.

Low-cost airline easyJet, which operates out of Gatwick airport, also revealed that it faced “widespread operational challenges” in its financial third quarter.

“Delivering for customers this summer remains our highest priority,” said chief executive Johan Lundgren. “We have taken action to build the additional resilience needed this summer.”

The UK carrier trimmed its pre-tax loss to £114mn for the three months to the end of June, from a loss of £318mn the previous year. Revenues rose to £1.8bn from £213mn in the same quarter in the previous year.

Lundgren said the company had extended its customer service hours and added more staff to the team “than ever before”. The airline has hired an extra 1,700 employees across the business for the summer season.

However, Lundgren warned that the company did not have access to the same number of staff from the European Union after Brexit. “There’s a big difference with what was available from people coming in from the EU before the pandemic and Brexit compared to now,” he added.

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