Pilots’ union hits back at aviation minister over airport disruption

The pilots’ union has hit back at comments by the aviation minister about who bears responsibility for the recent spate of flight cancellations at UK airports, largely caused by staff shortages.

In a statement on Thursday (June 16) about the establishment of an aviation resilience group, the minister Robert Courts said: “The aviation industry is privately owned, operated, and run. It is therefore responsible for making sure that it has enough staff to meet demand and to operate the flights offered for sale.”

Martin Chalk, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), said: “The implication that this was solely the fault of the industry is the minister forgetting that the government only removed the last of the restrictions in mid-March, and even then had been so chaotic in setting and removing them that they had failed to provide the certainty needed for aviation industry planning.

“The government has set a 10-point plan, which was criticised at the time as headlines for the right direction but with no substance.

“Despite this widespread comment, there is still no industry-wide Aviation Council which includes professional staff representatives such as Balpa to support the government in recreating the right environment for a financial, social and environmentally sustainable UK air transport sector to serve a successful Global Britain.”

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Courts will chair the new group which will see aviation bosses meet each week, adding: “This group will identify possible interventions to further improve the resilience of the sector and will be used to hold the sector to account for delivering its schedules.”

Elsewhere, Paul Scully, the minister for small business, has said the disruption caused by workforce shortages could be solved by staff opting to work longer hours.

He told Sky News: “We want to make sure that those people that are not necessarily working full time, through Universal Credit we can get them back in to work to be more productive, if that suits them, and obviously match them up with the sectors where there are those vacancies.

“I’m not talking about going out forcing people to do anything, but we just want to make sure that they’re matched up properly so that it’s just that those people who can work longer – that want to work longer – can do.”

Labour’s Emily Thornberry also told Sky News: “We have to ask our airlines why they don’t forward plan?

“It’s not as though people turn up unannounced to get on a plane.

“When I have spoken to airline staff they have said they can’t believe the airlines have been so short-sighted, have laid off so many staff and now they realise they can’t get them back.”

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